US qualifies for Copa América despite 2-1 loss at Trinidad after Sergiño Dest ejected for arguing

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Sergiño Dest lost his composure in a needless dispute with the referee, getting a pair of yellow cards for dissent in a 30-second span that endangered the United States’ berth in next year’s Copa América.

Trinidad won 2-1 on Monday night in Port-of-Spain, overcoming a deficit by scoring twice after Dest’s 39th-minute ejection left the U.S. a man short. The Americans held on to win the total-goals series 4-2 and earn spots in the 16-nation Copa América and the CONCACAF Nations League semifinals.

U.S. captain Tim Ream revealed there were “choice words” for Dest at halftime.

“Not too many things I can say here publicly that we said privately,” Ream said. “It’s a complete lack of respect for the guys that are playing, for the guys that are on the bench. It’s a lack of respect for the game itself, for the referees.”

Following a 3-0 win last week at Austin, Texas, Antonee Robinson scored in the 25th minute off Dest’s cross to give the 11th-ranked U.S. a four-goal series lead in the Nations League quarterfinal.

Reon Moore tied the score in the 43rd off a long ball from Alvin Jones, getting past defender Cameron Carter-Vickers and beating Turner to the near post. Jones put the 99th-ranked Soca Warriors ahead in the 57th with a 30-yard free kick off the hands of goalkeeper Matt Turner, who tried to parry the swerving shot. Jones scored a similar long-range goal in October 2017 against Tim Howard in a 2-1 win at Couva, about 20 miles south, that ended the Americans’ streak of World Cup appearances at seven.

The U.S. was in control until Dest, upset officials ruled he didn’t keep a ball from going out near midfield, punted the ball away toward the far end. That earned the first yellow from Guatemalan referee Walter López, and the 23-year-old defender then pointed toward where no foul was called moments earlier when Andre Rampersad pushed him over.

“It’s inexcusable,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said. “It was surreal.”

Dest argued with López as Gio Reyna and Ream tried to keep him away, Reyna trying to cover Dest’s mouth. López raised two fingers and showed a second yellow and a red. Ream and Turner screamed at Dest as he walked off the field.

“It is concerning because that’s not what we represent, that’s not who we are as a group,” Berhalter said. “We pride ourselves in staying mentally disciplined, battling through any type of conditions. Whether they’re good decisions or bad decisions, we’re supposed to keep going and respond in an appropriate way, and that obviously wasn’t the right response from Sergiño. He apologized to the group. He said it’s not going to happen again. As a team, the players, the staff, we need to hold him accountable.”

Dest will be suspended for the Nations League semifinal in March. He missed this year’s Nations League final after getting a red card and a three-game ban for scuffling in the semifinal against Mexico.

“We were very firm with with our words after the game,” Berhalter said. “He put a number of guys in jeopardy, made a number of guys do a lot of extra work in this weather.”

American team spokesman Michael Kammarman said CONCACAF rules prohibit players who receive red cards from speaking with media after matches. CONCACAF general secretary Philippe Moggio referred a request for comment to spokesman Alvaro Urrutia, who cited the regulation. Neither Moggio not Urrutia explained why the rule blocking media access was in place.

“I want to apologize to my Teammates, Staff, Fans and whole nation for my behaviour it was unacceptable, Selfish and immature I let my team down!” Dest wrote on Instagram. “It’s something I have to learn from and it won’t happen again!”

Berhalter tried to look ahead.

“Serge has done a great job of maturing and growing over the years that he’s been with the group and for him this has to be a learning experience,” the coach said. “We give people second chances. We work with people. We help them overcome instances like this.”

“What I don’t want this to turn into is a witch hunt,” Berhalter added. “He’s a young player, is a fantastic part of this team. He’s going to learn. He’s going to grow. He made a dumb mistake. He knows that. He apologized to the team and we’ve moved forward.”

The U.S. finished the year with 11 wins, four losses and three draws, going 4-2 in the start of Berhalter’s second term as coach. The match in largely empty Hasely Crawford Stadium was 34 years and one day after Paul Caligiuri’s goal there lifted the U.S. to a 1-0 win and into its first World Cup in 40 years.

Robinson scored on a diving header from Dest’s cross, getting by Shannon Gomez and redirecting the ball past goalkeeper Denzil Smith from 10 yards for his fourth international goal and second in two games. Robinson tucked the ball under his jersey in the celebration to indicate his fiancée is expecting a child in April.

The feeling was similar to the one at Costa Rica in March 2022, when the U.S. qualified for the World Cup despite a 2-0 defeat.

“It’s obviously bittersweet,” Robinson said.

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

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