SHORT HILLS, N.J. (AP) — Sergiño Dest’s tenure with the U.S. national team could be lengthy. Or he might cut it short.
The 18-year-old defender is scheduled to start Friday night’s exhibition against Mexico in his debut for the American senior team but could switch his affiliation to the Netherlands in the future.
Eligible to play for both nations, the outside back is keeping his options open after getting playing time with Dutch power Ajax at the start of this season.
“I’m happy for this opportunity and I’m happy that I’m here right now, but I don’t know for the future yet,” he said this week at the U.S. team’s hotel.
Dest was born in Almere, Netherlands, and his mother is Dutch and his father is a Surinamese-American. Dest played for the U.S. at the 2017 Under-17 World Cup and this year’s Under-20 World Cup, reaching the quarterfinals at both tournaments.
While the Royal Dutch Football Association has contacted him about making a change, Dest decided to report to U.S. camp this week. Asked about the conversation Wednesday, he paused and smiled before answering.
“Yeah they said something to me,” he replied. “It was not the first team yet, it was with the Under-23s. They want to have a meeting with me. I keep the options open for both ways.”
He would not commit to playing for the U.S. next month in CONCACAF Nations League games against Cuba and Canada. Because those are competitive matches, if he appears for the Americans he would not be able to switch to the Dutch.
“It’s about communication,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said, “and then creating an environment that they want to be in.”
There is little depth at outside back for the U.S., and the right-footed Dest can play on both sides. DeAndre Yedlin and Tyler Adams, the top right-sided U.S. players, have seen sidelined by injuries since spring, and left back is a traditional American weak spot.
“I don’t think age matters. If you’re ready, you’re ready, and I think him coming in here is a sign of that,” said 21-year-old midfielder Weston McKennie, a regular starter for Germany’s Schalke. “It seems like he definitely has a good attacking mentality and good speed and everything that his position really needs.”
Dest grew up in the Netherlands and had been to the U.S. only once, a trip to New York when he was about 14, before joining the U.S. youth team program. He started four of five matches at the Under-20 World Cup in Poland. His failure to get his head on the ball in a clearance attempt led to Ukraine’s first goal in an opening 2-1 win, and he rebounded to play far better in the following games.
“I was thinking it’s like a childish fault and I was still a little bit upset about it in the hotel,” he said. “I learned from that moment.”
His profile rose during preseason with Ajax, which was seconds from reaching the Champions League final last season before allowing a stoppage-time goal to Tottenham. Dest made his first-team competitive debut for Ajax in the Dutch Super Cup against PSV Eindhoven on July 27.
“I played with second team and I did really well, so they gave me a chance in preseason to play with the first team and that went very well,” he said. “My focus was I want to stay there and I don’t want to go back to the second team.”
He has since appeared in three Eredivisie matches and a pair of Champions League qualifiers.
“Everyone has their own progress, right, and the speed in which they continue to progress is unpredictable,” Berhalter said. “He got an opportunity, he seized his opportunity and now he’s a starter for Ajax, a semifinalist in the Champions League, and that’s an unbelievable story.”
Berhalter called Dest in mid-August and offered him the invitation to U.S. camp.
“I didn’t expect it,” Dest said. “I like to play for the U.S. I love the opportunity.”
Ajax was drawn into Champions League Group D, which Dest called “the opportunity to show myself to the world.” He could face a pair of young Americans, Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic and Lille’s Tim Weah, a teammate on the Under-20 team.
Dest playfully tried to gain some tactical knowledge this week from Pulisic.
“I was asking him are you playing on the left side? Right side? Things like that,” Dest said.
Dest could slot in nicely on either side for the Americans, still experimenting ahead of the start of World Cup qualifying next September,
“It happens all the time where you see a guy get an opportunity, take advantage of that opportunity,” Berhalter said. “You never can tell when it happens, who it’s going to happen to, but Sergiño’s in a good moment now, and we definitely want to capitalize on that.”
Notes: The game is a rematch of the CONCACAF Gold Cup final in July, when Mexico beat the U.S. 1-0 despite missing many of its top players, including Hirving Lozano, Javier Hernández and Jesús Corona.
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