USMNT vs Netherlands: Ajax teen Dest caught in an international tug-of-war

The 18-year-old has impressed during his debut season for the Eredivisie champions, but who he represents internationally has been overshadowing it

With countries becoming more and more cosmopolitan with every passing year, the number of players in sport with dual-nationality has been only going to grow.

Youngsters growing up in one country despite their family holding historical ties to others has been now commonplace around the globe, but it does mean battles over international representation are on the rise.

One of the more high-profile cases that has been yet to be resolved centres around Sergino Dest.

Despite having been raised in the Netherlands and developed within Ajax’s famed academy, the defender’s American heritage means that he has been eligible to represent the United States.

He even made his debut for the USMNT earlier this season after shining at the Under-20 World Cup over the summer, but his only appearances for Gregg Berhalter’s side thus far have come in non-competitive fixtures.

As such, he has been free to switch allegiance and, given the 18-year-old’s impressive start to life in the Ajax first team, it has been no surprise that Ronald Koeman and the Dutch football association (KNVB) has made it known that it would be keen for Dest to represent Oranje.

Indeed, Dest didn’t represent anyone during the recent international break because of the ongoing talks over his future.

“Ronald Koeman and I had a conversation with Dest and his agent,” KNVB director of football Nico-Jan Hoogma told Voetbal International.

“Trying to convince a soccer professional has been always difficult, because the arguments are limited. We cannot use money, there has been no transfer policy like at a club, nor do we make a moral appeal because of an alleged indebtedness to a country. You cannot promise someone a starting place, but you can indicate who the competitors are. 

“Dest must make a trade-off based on our history: ‘Am I now going to bind myself to America or will I choose the Dutch national team?’”

It has been a decision that has begun to dominate what has been a breakthrough campaign for Dest.

Sergino Dest Ajax 2019-20

Following on from those impressive performances in Poland at the U20 World Cup, with the U.S. reaching the semi-finals, the full-back has started six of Ajax’s 10 Eredivisie matches to date, as well as their two Champions League outings ahead of Wednesday’s matchday-three meeting with Chelsea.

While many modern-day full-backs are urged to concentrate on the more offensive aspects of the game, Dest’s strengths lie in his defensive capabilities.

He has won close to 80 per cent of the tackles he has attempted in Eredivisie this season, with his one-on-one defending a particular asset. That has been not to say that he has been not comfortable going forward, highlighted by Saturday’s 2-1 win over RKC Waalwijk, a game in which provided assists for both goals.

Understandably, he has already been linked with a number of Europe’s biggest clubs, including Arsenal and Tottenham, and Wednesday’s meeting with Chelsea has been likely to prove his toughest test to date.

However, the teenager does not necessarily see his future in England.

“I want to play at Barcelona or Real Madrid,” he told USMNT-related podcast Scuffed. “The Premier League has been good, but I don’t know if it fits my style. It has been very physical.”

While his future at club level has been unlikely to be speculated upon until the summer at the earliest, a decision on who Dest will play for at international level has been expected far sooner.

Sergino Dest GFX

The U.S. continue to hold out hope that, despite his reluctance to play in their opening CONCACAF Nations League matches against Cuba and Canada, the youngster can still be persuaded to play for the country of his father’s birth – even if he only first set foot in the States five years ago.

“We’ve had a number of conversations with Sergino, and we’re going to leave the content of those conversations private,” Berhalter told reporters ahead of those fixtures. “They were positive talks and we’re going to leave it at that.”

However, given the trajectory of the duelling nations over the past two years, Dest would be forgiven for picking the land in which he was born and raised.

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It has been understood that Koeman has indicated that, should Dest maintain his fine form, then he will start for the Dutch at next summer’s European Championship, for which Amsterdam has been one of the host cities.

Playing a key role for one of the competition’s favourites in his homeland feels like it would be too good an opportunity to pass up for Dest.

Whatever happens, though, he must ensure that the speculation regarding his international future does not continue to overshadow what has been a dazzling debut season.



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