Sergino Dest, the 18-year-old Dutch-American,
has broken into the starting lineup at Dutch champion Ajax and set off a tug of war between the USA, for which he played at the 2017 Under-17 World Cup and 2019 Under-20 World Cup, and the
Netherlands, where he was born and raised.
Dest accepted a call-up into the U.S. national team for its two-game friendly series but told reporters on Wednesday in New Jersey, where the USA is preparing to face Mexico on Friday, that has not yet committed to which nation he wants to play for at the senior national team level.
"I'm happy for this opportunity," Dest said. "I'm happy that I'm here right now, but I don't know for the future. You guys will see what happens at that time."
Dest's options are:
1. Commit to the USA. To do that, he must be cap-tied -- the first opportunity for him to play for the USA in an official competition at “A” international level will come in October when the USA faces Cuba and Canada in the new Concacaf Nations League.
2. Commit to the Netherlands. To do that, he must file a one-time change of association request with FIFA after which he cannot turn back.
3. Leave them open. He could continue to play for the USA in international friendlies although the next chance for that after the matches against Mexico and Uruguay on Tuesday in St. Louis won't be until next March. He could also play for the U.S. under-23 national team through next summer's Olympics in Tokyo.
Dest's first call-up for the USA's senior national team followed a sensational start to the 2019-20 season. He hasn't just been starting for Ajax but been an influential force at right back.
He hasn't just been starting in the Dutch league, where Ajax is three or four goals better than most of the teams it plays, but he was called on to start against APOEL (2-0 win) in a crucial UEFA Champions League playoff with millions of dollars on the line. Ajax was the 2019 Champions League semifinalist, eliminated by Tottenham on the last kick of the second leg, but forced to go through qualifying to enter the this season's group stage because of Dutch soccer's low UEFA club ranking.
“I was a little bit surprised," Dest said of the U.S. call-up, "and I felt like -- how you say -- valued. I like to play for the U.S. so I love that opportunity."
Dest could get a chance as early as Friday night against Mexico in the rematch of the Gold Cup final. U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter has talked about what the USA needing to do a better job of breaking through Mexico's pressure, and Dest with his attacking ability on the wing and comfort level at also working inside provides such a solution.
“It’s a big opportunity, and I’m also proud to play for them,” Dest said. “For me, they give me a lot of chances when I was younger so I appreciate that.”
Dest said he was contacted by the Dutch federation about meeting and talking about playing for what he described as the U-23s.
The Netherlands has already been eliminated from Olympic qualifying. But the Jong Oranje -- players born after Jan. 1, 1998 -- is entered in qualifying for the 2021 U-21 European Championship, where it opens against Cyprus on Tuesday.
Dest will have a lot of weigh in choosing between playing for the USA, which took him in when the Dutch program did not at the youth level, and playing for the native country. He will have to choose which program he thinks will give him the best chance of playing and achieving success and of promoting his own club career.
Dest isn't the first U.S. dual-national youth international who has had options.
Jonathan Gonzalez played for the USA at the U-20 level in 2017 but switched to play for Mexico, where he has played his club ball for Monterrey since he was 14. Dest's U-20 teammates like Julian Araujo, Uly Llanez and Alex Mendez will have to choose between the USA and Mexico although their situations are complicated because they were born in the United States, not Mexico, and will need to have already been issued Mexican passports when they first played for the USA -- November 2018 -- to be eligible to later file a change of association under FIFA's regulations.
Gonzalez did not enjoy the success Dest had with the USA at the U-17 and U-20 levels -- he wasn't picked for either World Cup team -- so his attachment to the U.S. program wasn't as strong. Moreover, his Mexican teammates at Monterrey were likely influential in persuading him to switch and play for El Tri.
In that way, Dest will likely face peer pressure from those he has grown up with at Ajax -- which he joined at the age of 10 from his hometown Almere City -- and have to consider continuing on with his academy buddies in his international career.
Five Ajax players are in the Jong Oranje squad -- though none is a starter on the first team like Dest is.
But just behind Dest, who was born in 2000, are players with birth years 2001 and 2002 -- 12 Ajax players in all, including highly regarded Ryan Gravenberch and Brian Brobbey -- on the Dutch teams that won back-to-back U-17 European championships in 2018 and 2019 in dominating fashion and have been tipped to be the next "golden generation" of Dutch soccer.
Photo: DeFodi/Imago/Icon Sportswire