The USMNT has achieved the goal of this international window. They won a two-leg quarterfinal in the Concacaf Nations League against Trinidad & Tobago 4-2, despite losing game two 2-1. The future is secured for this USA side. the US is on its way to a threepeat in the Concacaf Nations League, and is now qualified to play in next summer’s expanded Copa America; not to mention they’ll host the 2026 World Cup and don’t have to qualify. However, the here and now does not look so bright.
USMNT falls to 99th ranked Trinidad & Tobago 2-1
After winning leg one of this Concacaf Nations League Quarterfinal at home 3-0, the USMNT had to travel all the way to Port of Spain, Trinidad for leg two. The job was simple, don’t lose by three or more goals; play a complete game and get out of there without any blemishes. For the first 40 minutes, it looked like this was going to be a breeze.
The USMNT came out in a 4-4-2 formation, throwing it back to the olden days of the program. Gregg Berhalter rolled out the Turner in net, and the same backline from leg one: Robinson, Ream, Carter-Vickers, and Dest. In midfield, it was a flat four with Mussah, and de la Torre (in for the injured McKennie) in the middle of the park; Aaronson and Reyna were tasked to be wingers to provide width. Up top, Gregg went went with the hot-hand Pepi, and the rising star Balogun playing next to each other.
This group was able to control the game in the first half. They completed 225 passes creating seven shots; two of those were big chances, one was converted as a cross from Dest found the run of Robinson who dove to head the USMNT in front in the 25th minute. Things looked to be a breeze, that is until a moment of madness just before the 40th minute.
Dest’s moment of madness
Sergino Dest is an intrigal part of the USMNT. His ability to fly down the right flank and combine with the midfield to add to the attack is essential. However, he also has moments of hotheadedness, and oh did he have one of those moments in the 39th minute of this match.
Dest seemed to control a ball that was heading out of bounds. The ball seemed to never cross the line fully, and Dest was off to create another attack. Unfortunately, the referee blew the whistle calling the ball out of bounds. Dest was beside himself. He picked the ball up and punted it into the stands earning himself a yellow card. As the referee came to brandish that first card, Dest fired back yelling at the official with his teammates trying to hold him back.
It looked like his USMNT brethren were able to get Dest away from the ref when he jolted back toward the referee still screaming, to which the referee pulled out the yellow card a second time for dissent. In one moment of madness, the USMNT was down to 10 men, and the game shifted immediately.
The USMNT falls apart to end their 2023 campaign
Berhalter subbed out Reyna in the 42nd minute to bring on another outside back, Scally. The hope was to solidify the USMNT’s shape down a man for more than one-half of the game, the strategy did not pay off. One minute after the sub, Reon Moore scored the equalizing goal for T&T. The momentum had swung fully to the hosts.
The second half was a mirrored image of the first but for Trinidad and Tobago. The USMNT sat deep allowing T&T to have 64% possession, completing 201 passes, and creating eight shots. One of those shots was a long effort from Alvin Jones that looked to be a routine save for Turner. The ball hit off his hands and ended up in the net. Trinidad and Tobago led 57 minutes in, and the USA didn’t look to challenge that much.
The one player looking to break out of the T&T possession was Brenden Aaronson, who took a beating for trying to start counterattacks. Other than his effort, there was no oomph for the USMNT going forward in this game. The final minutes of this match saw the USA time wasting to hold a 4-2 result on aggregate. The match ended with a 2-1 loss for the USMNT.
This was the last match of a crazy and hectic year. Following last winter’s Men’s World Cup, this USMNT faced scandals and coaching controversy, won a Concacaf Nation’s League(CNL) title, fell short in the Concacaf Gold Cup, re-hired their coach, played meaningless friendlies, and now did the bare minimum to best the 99th ranked team in the world.
This team’s future is still bright, 2024 holds opportunities in the CNL semifinals, next summer’s Copa America, and at the Olympic tournament as the U-23’s made their first Olympic since 2008. However, they will need to play much better in these big moments that will themselves be a measuring stick to how this team will prepare for the 2026 World Cup that will be on home soil.
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Mandatory Credit: AP Photo/Azlan Mohammed, Pressinphoto/Imago/Icon Sportswire, & JB Autissier/Panoramic/Icon Sportswire