Sergiño Dest bullied his way to an “inexcusable” red card that infuriated his teammates, worried head coach Gregg Berhalter and spoiled what should have been a simple victory for the state men’s national team -United Monday in Trinidad.
With the USMNT leading 1-0, out of nowhere, Dest collected the ball and sent it into the stands, apparently in response to an assistant referee’s call.
That alone earned him a stupid yellow card. But Dest didn’t stop there. He spoke aggressively to the head referee, Walter López. As López held up the first yellow, Dest blew him a sarcastic kiss, which resulted in a second yellow and, by extension, a red.
His teammates, tellingly, made little protest against the cards. They instead went after Dest, a 23-year-old starting guard. Gio Reyna tried to calm him down. Yunus Musah tried to hold him back. After the red, captain Tim Ream grabbed him and shouted at him. Goalie Matt Turner also yelled at Dest and physically pushed him off the field.
At halftime, a few minutes later, “there were a lot of choice words,” Ream said. Berhalter called them “firm” words. Ream said he couldn’t repeat much publicly.
Meanwhile, public discourse has intensified. Former players took control. Herculez Gomez called the Dest explosion “absolutely shameful”. DaMarcus Beasley, speaking on the TNT halftime show, called it “crazy” and “unacceptable.” Beasley later described it as “baby behavior”. Former U.S. women’s national team star Julie Foudy called it “so selfish and unnecessary.”
Beasley added: “If it was Gregg Berhalter when he was a player and he went to meet Sergiño Dest in the locker room, all hell would break loose. Same thing with Clint Dempsey, same thing with Carlos Bocanegra, the captains of the national team. team. They are not going to let this go.
In his postgame press conference, Berhalter talked about “holding Dest accountable, because it’s inexcusable. It really is.” But as he answered question after question about Dest, he grew slightly stern, worried that the speech was getting out of hand.
“I don’t want this to turn into a witch hunt,” Berhalter said. “He’s a young player. He’s a fantastic part of this team. He’s going to learn. He’s going to grow. He made a stupid mistake. He knows it. He apologized to the team. And we’re going to forward.”
What concerned Berhalter, however, was that this was not entirely isolated behavior. It was Dest’s second extracurricular red card in his last seven USMNT matches. He also lost his head and helped spark a melee in the 85th minute of a 3-0 win over Mexico in June. On Monday, he became the first USMNT player in the modern era to win two reds in a calendar year.
The first cost him a Nations League final. This will cost him a Nations League semi-final in March. The question now is whether it could cost him anything more.
“He put several guys in danger”
Some experts and fans have recommended the discipline. Some recalled two notable examples as precedents. In 2021, Berhalter suspended Weston McKennie for a World Cup qualifying match, then kicked him out of USMNT camp for violating team protocol – apparently for bringing an unauthorized visitor back to the team hotel. A year later, Gio Reyna was shunning the World Cup and Berhalter was considering sending him home.
But after consulting with the team’s staff and leadership group — a half-dozen experienced players — he gave Reyna the opportunity to correct his behavior. Reyna apologized. His teammates scolded him and asked Reyna to change – which he did.
“They really took ownership of this process,” Berhalter later said of his players. And now they will likely take ownership of this process as well.
They didn’t forgive instantly after the match. Antonee Robinson called Dest’s actions “unprofessional.” Ream said he showed a “total lack of respect for the guys who are playing, for the guys who are on the bench, … a lack of respect for the game itself, for the referees.”
And it was more than just a mistake, more than a sulking attitude, more than a violation of team rules. It was a “big mistake”, Robinson said, and it turned a routine victory into a nervous evening in Port of Spain. This briefly put the USMNT’s qualification for the Copa América in jeopardy. The United States was leading its home-and-away quarterfinal match 4-0 on aggregate at the time of Dest’s blowout. In the 58th minute, led by a man, the score was 4-2.
“Everything went well,” Berhalter said. “And then, regrettable moment which put us at a very disadvantageous situation.”
This ultimately did not cost them qualification, but it still spoiled the planned substitutions. Berhalter had planned two changes at halftime: Alejandro Zendejas for Reyna and Joe Scally for Dest. Instead, he was forced to insert Scally for Reyna. Zendejas never entered the game. And the 10 who remained in the game had to work in humid heat rather than navigate and save energy.
“He put several guys in danger,” Berhalter said of Dest. “Forced a number of guys to do a lot of extra work. »
He will therefore have to work to regain their grace.
Dest has already apologized — “to my teammates, my staff, my fans and the entire nation for my unacceptable, selfish and immature behavior,” he wrote on Instagram — but he will have to do more. There was no excuse for the red card. Even to his teammates, “there was no explanation,” Ream said.
“He needs to show – not just through his words, by apologizing, but also through his actions – that we can trust him and be someone we can count on, on and off the field,” Robinson said . “Be professional and just show that he learned from this situation.”
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