Commentary

Sergino Dest has options

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

11 comments about "Sergino Dest has options".
  1. Bob Ashpole, September 5, 2019 at 8:22 a.m.

    I fear that you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.

  2. Wooden Ships replied, September 5, 2019 at 10:48 a.m.

    I’m not sure what you’re saying here Bob. This is for Dest a tough decision if it becomes one. Firstly, he’s off to a great career with a great team. Secondly, playing for the USMNT really will have no gain for him domestically, Holland. There is a chance it could harm. A difference could be in who Berhalter selects and the emphasis upon the familiar-technical. The atmosphere within the USMNT. Might Nagbe have held similar concerns, I believe so. The pull of playing with those you grew-up with is also strong. Which country has a better chance of going to Qatar, that’s not a given in either case? 

  3. Bob Ashpole replied, September 5, 2019 at 10:17 p.m.

    I am referring to is several articles have been pointing out the opportunity that Dest offers to the US MNT program. SA has done more then hint. They have been very straightforward, but USSF is going to do what USSF is going to do.

  4. Wooden Ships replied, September 5, 2019 at 11:41 p.m.

    I get it Bob and yes they have. I hope we’re successful even with a seemingly mysterious governing body. 

  5. Stephen Hooks, September 5, 2019 at 9:26 a.m.

    Dest will go Red White and Blue at the end of the day. The US gave him all the opportunities while the Dutch up untill now gave him zero attention or care. 

  6. frank schoon, September 5, 2019 at 12:10 p.m.

    I can't see Dest coming. He was in born in Holland, grew up , went to school and learned to play the game in Holland and received all his training there.Other than his father being American ,I don't see really connection with him in wanting to play for the US. To think the US  gave him a chance is a weak argument, for the US is looking all over the world for players and they thought they would have a great prospect who plays for Ajax...
    Playing for Ajax, gives him a boost to be picked for the Dutch NT, coached by the Koeman, a former great and obviously will learn more about the game and play with better players. Playing for Holland has also a much better status worldwide than playing for the USMNT: than also consider the incompetence of the USSF in picking a coach the USMNT.
    The fact that he is not committed is telling...


  7. Seth Vieux replied, September 5, 2019 at 3:33 p.m.

    Hard to argue anything here Frank, and so long as KNVB is truly after him it seems an easy decision. I'd think the Dutch would be ranking an 18 y/o Ajax starter pretty high in their plans for the future. The only potential personal benefit I could see for Dest in picking USMNT, and it's certainly just a potential benefit, would be looking at Pulisic's Chelsea contract as an indicator that rich clubs are willing to bid pretty high (over-bid?) for an American player for the potential return on investment in revenues from grabbing a large share of the American market. Could it possibly play out the same for Dest? As you mention, he's Dutch 100x more than he's American, unlike Pulisic who was born and raised here, so will clubs gamble on whether or not the American soccer fan will follow his every move as intently as they have Pulisic's? He's finally gaining some attention from anyone other than the truly rabid fans who follow the youth teams, but really only in the last few months, and I'd say still not nearly as much as Pulisic's break through.

    If I were betting I'd say he's with the Dutch so long as they can paint a picture of the future for him where he's an important player in their plans, but there's at least one potential financial benefit of USMNT over KNVB in his future contracts/transfers.

  8. Donald Lee replied, September 5, 2019 at 4:33 p.m.

    Perhaps you are right.  I'm not sure what is right.  But if Dest chooses the US will you stop and re-assess your own assumptions about what you think you know?  Or act like it never happened.

  9. Nick Gabris, September 5, 2019 at 1:08 p.m.

    Ajax is a world renowed name in soccer. My take is he will stay at Ajax and get the recognition he deserves and make it to their natl. team. Has a better chance of making it to the WC with Holland than with the USMNT. Hate to say this but, I do not have the faith in GB getting the US to the WC. He should stay in coaching MLS. 

  10. Wooden Ships replied, September 6, 2019 at 12:17 p.m.

    Neither made it last time, and it would be hard to argue that CONCACAF isn’t much much easier.

  11. Georgie Best, September 7, 2019 at 11:53 a.m.

    Sergio Dest, soon to be in the same class as Julian Green...

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