The United States Men’s National Team pulled off one of its most exciting dual-national captures of all time this week, securing the commitment of Dutch-American Sergiño Dest.
Dest, an 18-year-old fullback at Ajax, has played for the U.S. throughout his youth career and made two appearances in friendlies for the USMNT. After Netherlands manager Ronald Koeman offered him a spot with the Oranje, Dest sat out during the last international break, opting not to play for either team while he weighed his options. But Dest has decided to keep playing for the USMNT, and should be available to manager Gregg Berhalter starting in November.
There aren’t too many prospects like Dest in world soccer, period. He quickly cemented his place in Ajax’s first team less than a year after he was promoted from the youth squad to Ajax’s B team, and it was more for his technical qualities than his defending. Notably, he’s also played both right and left back for the United States and Ajax. Berhalter has experimented heavily with a defense that features one traditional fullback, and one on the other side that cuts inside to help the midfield. Dest is as perfect of a fit for that cut-in role as Berhalter could have ever hoped for.
USMNT general manager Earnie Stewart and others at U.S. Soccer have certainly been aware of Dest’s talent for several years, but he really started catching the eyes of fans at the Under-20 World Cup. The USMNT upset the tournament favorites, France, in the Round of 16, and Dest was one of the best players on the field.
Sergino Dest vs. France (U20 World Cup)— Marc Geschwind (@MarcGeschwind) June 6, 2019
Dest was phenomenal as he helped the US upset arguably the best team in the tournament. He was positive on the ball, a rock defensively, and created the 3rd goal.
As good of a fullback prospect as you will find. pic.twitter.com/ln6lN337pC
Some first-team minutes were expected for Dest this season, but upon the start of Ajax’s preseason, he was immediately thrust into the first XI. Dest impressed in those matches, as well as the Johan Cruyff Shield against PSV Eindhoven to start the season, winning a place in the starting lineup. His most important senior performance to date has probably been against APOEL in Champions League qualification, where he was a consistent attacking threat.
Sergino Dest vs. APOEL— Marc Geschwind (@MarcGeschwind) August 28, 2019
In his first ever Champions League start, the 18 year-old American was awarded Man of the Match by the home crowd at the Johan Cruyff Arena.
And while Ziyech deserved it, that recognition was a testament to his performance. He was superb throughout. pic.twitter.com/ojF5LpvvC4
An important aspect of Dest’s game going forward is that he can create shots for his teammates in several different ways. He’s just as good at knocking the ball past his defender and swinging a cross into the back post ...
Dest has passing and dribbling skills, with creativity to go along with them, that American coaches wish their attackers had. His passing via StatsBomb, would be more than satisfactory if he was a central midfielder. Dude can absolutely ball. No other fullback in the Netherlands is matching his attacking output.
However, Eredivisie stats need to be taken with a grain of salt. Ajax is the best team in that division, and the gap from it to the bottom-half sides is vast. When Ajax plays teams with similar talent, in the UEFA Champions League, Dest’s numbers don’t look as impressive. His defensive stats, in particular, have been poor through three Champions League matches. He doesn’t win the ball back nearly as often as he does in the Eredivisie, gets dribbled past much more often, and commits more fouls.
Here are Dest’s Eredivisie and Champions League stats laid over one another, with the Champions League in blue.
This is a tiny sample size, and even horrendous stats are not particularly alarming for an 18-year-old in his first Champions League matches, but it’s also enough reason to not expect Dest to be an elite defender for the USMNT right away. There’s going to be a learning curve.
Dest is still below-average at defending one-on-one against wingers who have excellent dribbling skills and run directly at him. You might remember the moment he got nutmegged by Mexican star “Tecatito” Jesus Corona during his first USMNT camp.
Or perhaps you saw him also get nutmegged by his international teammate, Christian Pulisic.
Obviously, Dest will need to cut out those mistakes if he’s ever going to become an elite fullback. But he has a higher ceiling than any fullback who’s ever been part of the USMNT, and American fans have every right to be thrilled about securing his commitment to the program.