USMNT qualifies for Copa America despite 2-1 loss in Trinidad

A 10-man U.S. men’s national team lost 2-1 to Trinidad and Tobago Monday in Port of Spain, but the 2024 Copa América hosts will still compete in next summer’s tournament alongside Argentina, Brazil and 13 other squads from South America and the CONCACAF region after qualifying for the tournament with a 4-2 aggregate win.

The one-goal defeat combined with last week’s 3-0 victory over the Soca Warriors in the home-and-home series was enough to send the USMNT — who reached the Copa América semifinals in 2016, the last time 16 teams from the Americas competed — to the tournament, which kicks off next June.

Here are a few quick takeaways from Monday’s match, during which U.S. defender Sergiño Dest sent off for collecting two yellow cards for dissent in the first half.

Play of the game

Gregg Berhalter’s team started the match on the front foot, with Brenden Aaronson and Folarin Balogun both going close over the first 15 or so minutes Monday night. So when USMNT left back Antonee “Jedi” Robinson scored for the second consecutive game to put the visitors ahead and up 4-0 overall less than a half-hour into Monday’s match at Hasely Crawford Stadium in Trinidad’s capital, it seemed like the rest of the match would be a formality.

Dest set up Robinson with a driven cross from the left side, and the left back dove to head the ball past Soca Warriors keeper Denzil Smith:

Turning point

The Americans were well on their way to advancing both to the Copa and to March’s CONCACAF Nations League finals at that point. Then a moment of madness by Dest changed everything.

Still apparently fuming from what he thought was an uncalled foul by Guatemalan referee Walter López, Dest became incensed when the assistant referee called a ball Dest was trying to corral on the right touchline out. Dest booted the ball into the baby Caribbean night. López, understandably, immediately cautioned him.

But Dest kept talking to López as his teammates tried in vain to lead him away. Then he talked some more. López brandished the yellow card the second time in 30 seconds, then reached into his back pocket and showed Dest the red. The PSV Eindhoven right back — who started all four games for the U.S. at last year’s World Cup in Qatar, then trudged off the field in disgrace as defender Tim Ream and keeper Matt Turner gave him an earful on his way to the dressing room.

It was perhaps the stupidest sending off in USMNT history, and it instantly changed the complexion of the contest. It took the hosts just four minutes to capitalize on their numerical advantage, with Reon Moore equalizing before the half was over.

Alvin Jones — whose goal in nearby Couva in another 2-1 T&T win six years prevented the Americans from qualifying foe the 2018 World Cup — then put the home side ahead with a shot that handcuffed Turner.

Dest will be suspended for the Nations League semifinal in March. Given the seriousness of Monday’s transgression, one has to wonder if Berhalter will invite the 23-year-old to that camp at all.

Key stat

U.S. midfielder Yunus Musah won his 33rd U.S. cap Monday, setting a new program record for appearances by player before turning 21. The previous mark had been shared by Jozy Altidore, Landon Donovan and Christian Pulisic — pretty good company for the AC Milan man. Musah celebrates his 21st birthday later this month.

What’s next for the USMNT

Monday’s game ends a mostly successful but decidedly strange 2023 for the American squad. The year began with Berhalter’s future as coach in doubt following the World Cup drama involving Gio Reyna and his parents, both former national teamers. The U.S. trounced Mexico and Canada under its second interim coach of the year, B.J. Callaghan, with Berhalter rehired as coach in-between those games.

He returned to the sideline in September and presided over four friendlies — wins over Ghana, Oman and Uzbekistan and a 3-1 loss to four-time World Cup champ Germany — before taking on T&T over two legs this month. The U.S. got the job done in the end, advancing to both to Copa and in the Nations League.

Their semifinal opponent for the latter competition, to be staged in Arlington Texas in March, hasn’t been determined yet. But the goal for the USMNT couldn’t be clearer: a third consecutive Nations League title.

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United Statesmen’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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