Sergiño Dest punted and ranted his way to an “inexcusable” red card that infuriated teammates, concerned head coach Gregg Berhalter, and marred what should have been a simple U.S. men’s national team win Monday in Trinidad.
With the USMNT leading 1-0, out of nowhere, Dest picked up the ball and walloped it into the stands, seemingly in response to an assistant referee’s call.
That alone earned him a stupid yellow card. But Dest didn’t stop there. He talked aggressively at the head referee, Walter López. As López brandished the first yellow, Dest blew him a sarcastic kiss, which drew a second yellow and, by extension, a red.
His teammates, tellingly, hardly protested the cards. They instead went after Dest, a 23-year-old starting fullback. Gio Reyna tried to calm him. Yunus Musah tried to restrain him. After the red, captain Tim Ream grabbed him and yelled at him. Goalkeeper Matt Turner screamed at Dest too, and physically pushed him off the field.
At halftime, minutes later, “there were a lot of choice words,” Ream said. Berhalter called them “firm” words. Ream said he couldn’t repeat many of them publicly.
Meanwhile, public discourse spiraled. Former players seized control of it. Herculez Gomez called Dest’s outburst “absolutely disgraceful.” DaMarcus Beasley, speaking on TNT’s 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 this was Gregg Berhalter when he was a player and he was going 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. They are not going to let this slide.”
At his postgame news conference, Berhalter spoke about “hold[ing Dest] accountable, because it’s inexcusable. It really is.” But as he fielded question after question about Dest, he grew slightly stern, worried that the discourse was careening out of control.
“What I don’t want this to turn into is a witch hunt,” Berhalter clarified. “He’s a young player. He’s a fantastic part of this team. He’s gonna learn. He’s gonna grow. He made a dumb mistake. He knows that. He apologized to the team. And we move forward.”
What concerned Berhalter, though, is that this wasn’t entirely isolated behavior. It was Dest’s second extracurricular red card in his last seven USMNT games. He also lost his head and helped ignite a melee in the 85th minute of a 3-0 win over Mexico back in June. On Monday, he became the first modern-era USMNT player to earn two reds in a calendar year.
The first one cost him a Nations League final. This one will cost him a Nations League semifinal in March. The question, now, is whether it might cost him something more.
‘He put a number of guys in jeopardy’
Some pundits and fans recommended discipline. Some recalled two prominent examples as precedent. In 2021, Berhalter suspended Weston McKennie for a World Cup qualifier, then dismissed him from USMNT camp, for violating team protocol — reportedly for bringing an unauthorized visitor back to the team hotel. A year later, Gio Reyna sulked at the World Cup, and Berhalter considered sending him home.
But after consulting with staff and the team’s leadership group — a half-dozen experienced players — he gave Reyna chances to correct his behavior. Reyna apologized. Teammates admonished him, and asked Reyna to change — which he did.
“They really took ownership of that process,” Berhalter later said of his players. And now, they will likely take ownership of this process, too.
They were not instantly forgiving postgame. Antonee Robinson called Dest’s actions “unprofessionalism.” Ream said he exhibited “a complete lack of respect for the guys that are playing, for the guys that are on the bench, … a lack of a respect for the game itself, for the referees.”
And it was more than a simple mistake, more than a sulky attitude, more than a violation of team rules. It was a “big mistake,” Robinson said, and it turned a routine win into a nervy night in Port of Spain. It briefly imperiled the USMNT’s Copa América qualification. The U.S. led its two-leg quarterfinal matchup 4-0 on aggregate at the time of Dest’s eruption. By the 58th minute, down a man, it was 4-2.
“Everything was going smoothly,” Berhalter said. “And then, regrettable moment that put us at a big disadvantage.”
It ultimately didn’t cost them qualification, but it still spoiled planned substitutions. Berhalter had plotted two halftime changes: Alejandro Zendejas for Reyna, and Joe Scally for Dest. Instead, he was forced to insert Scally for Reyna. Zendejas never got in the game. And the 10 who remained in the game had to toil in humid heat rather than cruise and conserve energy.
“He put a number of guys in jeopardy,” Berhalter said of Dest. “Made a number of guys do a lot of extra work.”
So he will have to work to re-earn their grace.
Dest has already apologized — “to my Teammates, Staff, Fans and whole nation for my behaviour it was unacceptable, Selfish and immature,” he wrote on Instagram — but he will have to do more. There was no excuse for the red card. Even to teammates, “there was no explanation,” Ream said.
“He’s gotta show — not just his words, saying sorry, but show with his actions — that we can trust him to be someone we can rely on, on and off the pitch,” Robinson said. “Be professional, and just show that he’s learned from this situation.”