Well, that’s one way to qualify for the Copa America and advance to the semifinals of the CONCACAF Nations League. After an early goal from Antonee Robinson in the first half, the USMNT faced a scare—a potential repeat of the failure in Trinidad in 2017 that saw the U.S. miss the 2018 World Cup. A pointless red card from Sergiño Dest derailed the United States’ momentum, giving the Trinidadians a glimmer of hope as they scored two past Matt Turner, winning on the night but not the tie after an American 3-0 win in Austin, with the final aggregate score 4-2 in favor for the Yanks.
We take a closer look at how it all went down, the context of some of the key plays within the flow of the game, and what it means for the team going forward.
Team USA XI (4-4-2): 1. Turner (GK) — 2. Dest, 3. Carter-Vickers, 13. Ream (C), 5. Robinson — 7. Reyna (Scally 42’), 14. de la Torre (Maloney 90’+1), 6. Musah, 11. Aaronson — 9. Pepi (Tillman 65’), 20. Balogun
Weston McKennie picked up an injury in the previous match against T&T in Austin and has traveled back to Turin, Italy. Tim Ream retains the armband for the match once again. It’s a relatively new shape for the Americans, as Berhalter opted for a two-striker formation used in the later parts of the first leg that resulted in late goals in the match.
It was all USA in the opening five minutes, as the team aimed to rectify their mistakes from the first leg and set the tone by wanting to put the game to bed early on. Brenden Aaronson forced a well-saved shot by Trinidad goalkeeper Denzil Smith early in the match, and in the fourth minute, Folarin Balogun had a promising attempt blocked by the home keeper.
The early dominance from the US paid off at the 25-minute mark when right-back Sergino Dest delivered a precise cross into the area, and defender Antonee Robinson bent low to head home, making it 1-0 on the night and 4-0 on aggregate. However, what soon happened grabbed all the headlines.
The USMNT held all the cards in Port of Spain, until Dest in the 39th minute, following a throw-in against the US, kicked the ball away. The ball appeared to still be in play but the referee thought otherwise. This, along with prior fouls that had gone unnoticed sparked this reaction from Dest. This action led to the first yellow card, and the 23-year-old then gestured toward Trinidad’s goal, expressing dissatisfaction with a foul that had not been called earlier. Dest engaged in an argument with referee Walter López while Gio Reyna, Yunus Musah, and Tim Ream attempted to keep him away from the official. López signaled two fingers, indicating a second yellow, aka, a red card. Ream and Turner voiced their frustration at Dest as he exited the field.
Dest will face suspension for the Nations League semi-final in March. He had previously missed this year’s Nations League final due to a red card and a three-game ban for an altercation in the semi-final against Mexico. Fun fact: Dest is the first American to get sent off after assisting a goal since…Dest assisting a goal and getting sent off against Mexico. US coach Gregg Berhalter brought in right-back Joe Scally for Reyna after the red card to reinstate a four-man backline.
The turning point visibly unsettled the Americans, allowing Trinidad to rejoin the game as Reon Moore connected with a through ball just two minutes before halftime, driving a fierce first-time shot high into the net beyond Turner’s near post, just seconds after the restart of the drama in the 43rd minute.
The second half was no different from the first half, as the U.S. team appeared lifeless and lackluster. It was a very uninspiring performance, but luckily, there’s a good goal buffer.
While Trinidad struggled to generate clear chances after the restart, the Soca Warriors took the lead on 57 minutes courtesy of a free-kick by Alvin Jones. Jones’ well-struck set piece from outside the area posed a challenge, but US goalkeeper Turner could have made a better attempt, trying to punch the ball clear but instead deflecting it into his own net.
Despite this scare that brought the same cold sweats from that dreadful October 2017 night, Trinidad never seemed likely to score the three additional goals required for a significant upset. The deciding factor was Trinidad’s capitulation in the final ten minutes in Austin. Team USA held firm, but still overly underwhelming while securing an aggregate victory that also ensured their place in next year’s Copa America.
Despite missing key players due to injuries such as Christian Pulisic, Tim Weah, and Weston McKennie in the second game, there’s enough quality to dispatch Trinidad with all due respect. Yes, we scored three goals in the first leg, even though it took 80 minutes; it’s the bare minimum. Once again, it’s yet another loss on the road under Gregg Berhalter, with just two wins in the last 16 road games against CONCACAF opponents, along with seven draws and seven losses since November 2016.
At the end of the day, what matters most is that we won with narrow margins once again and will need to work a whole lot harder if the team wants to compete against South America’s best.