Sergino Dest -- 'the little American' -- shines steadily for shaky Barcelona

We had been warned not to expect a festive fan atmosphere at the Camp Nou, Europe's largest stadium and the home not so long ago to some of the greatest soccer the world has ever seen. But at times during Barcelona's 1-0 win over Dynamo Kyiv one could have heard the sound of an empty plastic cup of cero-cero beer drop at the other side of the 99,000-capacity stadium.

In comparison, an average MLS game delivers La Bombonera exhilaration. During our post-game meal at the Asador de Lugo, we told our waiter, after learning he was a Barcelona fan, of the extremely subdued crowd of 45,968. "It's because they feel like they're at a wake," he said. "The stadium's crumbling and the team's bad."

There's also the club's $1.5 billion of red ink, amid which President Joan Laporta speaks of cobbling together the financing to renovate the stadium which opened in 1957. It didn't feel as dilapidated as our waiter described, but certainly disappoints after a couple of days of admiring the overall grandeur of Barcelona. The big screen doesn't show game footage or replays. It displays blurry match stats from time to time and at halftime aired a commercial featuring Leo Messi, as if fans needed another reminder of what once was. 

Despite his departure to Paris, Messi's jerseys continue to take up space at the souvenir stands, which have yet to feature the No. 2 jersey of the 20-year-old U.S. national team's Sergino Dest. After a successful move from outside back to right wing in last weekend's 3-0 win over Valencia, Dest is again starting up front in Barcelona's must-win Champions League game, following big losses to Benfica and Bayern Munich, on this Wednesday evening.

While walking around the stadium the very long way for Gate 4 access -- the steward at Gate 19 assured us it was a short "one-cigarette" journey after he denied us stadium entry at the acces he was in charge of -- we find evidence that Dest Barcelona jerseys are available. It's worn by a Mexican-American from Texas who explains he got it on request at the big Barca store, which prints name and numbers on shirts on order.

We bought our tickets -- seats in the farthest, cheapest section --  on a secondary ticketing website for about $35, nearly half the original price. 

Worries of a low turnout had started after last weekend's LaLiga game produced a half-full turnout that meant a significant amount of season-ticket holders didn't bother showing up as Barcelona returned to full capacity crowds (upon lifted pandemic restrictions) nor went to the effort of reselling their tickets.

The early Champions League kickoff slot (6:45 p.m. instead on 9 p.m) caused further anxiety about the attendance in a city where you meet for drinks at 10 p.m. to plan where to go for appetizers and then dinner. Laporta pleaded with fans to rush away from work and classes to support the Blaugrana.

No less than seven newspapers covered and rated Barcelona's performance. Most graded Dest among the top two players against Dynamo Kyiv after Gerard Pique. El Periodico gave the U.S. national team's 20-year-old  MVP honors.

All queried in a few person-in-the-street interviews thought it "unbelievable" that Ronald Koeman was still in charge. But the fans at the game -- a large number of which were, like our foursome, tourists -- neither booed nor chanted abuse at the Dutch coach. The loudest jeers during a performance that one newspaper would call "agonizing" and another dubbed "sad" came when the UEFA anthem played ahead of kickoff.

Dest played up front as far as possible while staying onside, and usually within a yard of the right sideline. He helped create Barcelona's first scoring chances, heading wide and into a defender from left-side crosses, and he sent in crosses from his side. In the 27th minute, Dest beat two defenders but lost the ball to the third. His inconsistent success with first-half forays produced three corner kicks, the third of which came when he was offered Barcelona's clearest shot but couldn't beat Dynamo's goalkeeper Georgiy Bushchan, who deflected the ball out of bounds. Gerard Pique's game-winning goal came on that corner kick.

Koeman's halftime adjustment gave Dest more defensive duties, which he handled easily against the sadly timid Ukrainians. In a game with few highlights, his combo play in the 61st minute, during which he smoothly played on a third return pass after recovering quickly after an uncalled foul, was among them.

Dest's play with Barcelona compared to with the USA, such as his brilliant performance against Costa Rica, differs remarkably in how much more toil is required in his USA role. Coach Gregg Berhalter should consider unburdening the skillful Dest of most of his defensive duty.

The Dutch-raised Dest first played for the USA when U-17 coach John Hackworth called him up in October 2016. Then Dest played at the U-17 World Cup and for Coach Tab Ramos' quarterfinalists at the 2019 U-20 World Cup. The Spanish media usually refer to Dest as an American -- "the little American" in some cases -- on a team that includes six other Netherlands players.

While most attention during the post-Messi era has been on the under-performers and the potential of Ansu Fati, Dest has been emerging from under-the-radar while benefitting from Koeman's coaching decisions.

This Sunday, Barcelona hosts Real Madrid for the season's first Clasico. A chance for Dest to take another step toward earning a jersey spot in the souvenir booths of the Camp Nou.

13 comments about "Sergino Dest -- 'the little American' -- shines steadily for shaky Barcelona".
  1. Bob Ashpole, October 21, 2021 at 11:55 p.m.

    Good article, Mike.

  2. Wooden Ships replied, October 22, 2021 at 3:50 p.m.

    Yes, fun read. 

  3. beautiful game, October 22, 2021 at 4:11 p.m.

    Mike, you price of adminission was way too steep based on the performance on the pitch. Dest does  deserve kudos for his energetic performance v Kyiv, while the Barca team effort was lethargic at best with many moments of terrible inter-passing.  DePay takes on too many players and hasn't performed well in several games. Luuk de Jong is given minutes by Koeman when he has no business being on the roster. And Frankie de Jong's performances so far this season have been mediocre with too many five-six touches on the ball. Bottom line is that Koeman is not the right coach for any attacking team. 

  4. frank schoon replied, October 23, 2021 at 8:54 a.m.

    BG. I beg to differ with you on the assessment of Koeman of not being able to coach an attacking team...First of all he played for Ajax with Cruyff as coach, then went to Barcelona to play for the Dream Team coached by Cruyff, played for the Dutch national team that won the European championship in '88 coached by Rinus Michels and he recently was coach of the Dutch national team. He has coached and played and learned from the best as far as attacking soccer goes.
    There is a reason why Barcelona had asked already to coach Barcelona and because he was defensive type of coach. As they asked him the third time, he accepted for he turned them down twice already, and gave up his succesful coaching job with the Dutch NT.

    Barcelona was run by the board of directors in the past 10years that literally ruined the team financially....that's why Messi had to leave, some players took salary cuts in order for Barcelona to buy players there were not very good. As a matter of fact the de Jong a dutch striker who played in the MLS and lasted only a year...They got Dest who never did anything at Ajax was just beginning his career. The only reason he went to Barcelona was because of Koeman who knew from Ajax....that all they can afford...Both Dest and de Jong are not worthy or good enough to play for Barcelona. Frenkie de Jong is good but he is not able to play the way he wants because of Busquets is still playing and he is an excellent player, one of the best... Frenkie de Jong has to bite his time untill then. I'm not a fan of Memphis Depay, but his being transfer free which didn't cost Barcelona any money other than his salary. Depay would never have gone to play for Barcelona for he isn't good enough but that is all there is they can afford....

    When you look at Koeman and see what he is dealing with, a club that is a financial joke, can only buy third rate players, loses the greatest player in the world, lost Suarez, then to say Koeman can't coach an attacking team? You call this Barcelona an attacking team WITH WHAT??? He's got nothing, Barcelona has become a joke as compared to what they once were.....

  5. frank schoon, October 23, 2021 at 9:12 a.m.

    Dest is not the wing Barcelona wants. As a matter of fact, if it weren't for Koeman Dest wouldn't be playing for Barcelona. When Barcelona was "BARCELONA" ,when the world watched the greatest soccer being played, Dest would be lucky selling peanuts at Camp Nou stadium. He's not Barcelona type of player. Barcelona is hurting financially so bad that they were forced to get third rate players, like Dest who hadn't even done anything at Ajax, Luuk de Jong, who played in the MLS for one year and somehow ended up at Barcelona after a stint with another spanish team. He is only good in heading balls and not good with his feet....Barcelona wingers don't give crosses but go in,so here your buy a submarine when you really need an aircraft carrier....

    Likewise Memphis Depay would never have played for Barcelona in the "Barcelona" days. He likewise is a Barca type of players. He is an excellent 1v1 players that has no brains....Frenkie de Jong is excellent but can't play his game until Busquets leave, for he currently is the best #6in the world. You want to learn how to play #6 watch Busquets, not with ball but before he gets the ball and who he passes to...

    Barcelona is so financially strapped they are forced to acquire players that could only be stars for Pizza Hut United....

    The reason Dest is playing wing, for he grew playing wing but lacked the extra to be a wing and therefore he plays back and therefore he is a cut above a 'back'. But playing wing at Barca at times means they have a defender up front with some wing capabilities.... That how you should see it....

  6. Bob Ashpole replied, October 23, 2021 at 9:59 a.m.

    Frank, I think you may be too harsh on Dest. He is young and has years to prove himself yet. The fact that Barca bought his contract is not an issue, it is that they put him on the first team instead of Barca II to give him a chance to develop.

    I  think your point about Dest starting at winger is a good one. His selection says more about Barca's Board than it does the player or the manager. Well, it doensn't say anything about the player and manager at all.

    I wonder what the Barca board promised Koeman to get him to come to Barca after turning them down twice.

  7. frank schoon replied, October 23, 2021 at 10:06 a.m.

    Bob, You don't buy young players unproven when you have a great Youth Academy...that's a waste of money.... When buying a player ,he needs to start for a top level team and show no weaknesses.
    It wasn't the right time for Koeman for he was coaching . You can't leave a team for you'll get a reputation that you don't stick to your contract....Koeman this time was forced sort of because not only was he just NT coach which is a litlle different but alos how many times will Barca continue to ask....And besides Barca is no two bit organization but one played for with a history...

  8. frank schoon replied, October 23, 2021 at 10:08 a.m.

    Bob, besides buying a defender, Dest, when that's the easiest position to develop yourself is just a pure waste of money...

  9. Bob Ashpole replied, October 23, 2021 at 9:58 p.m.

    You would think this would be the time for Barca to elevate more reserves to the first team! Makes you wonder.

  10. Seth Vieux replied, October 23, 2021 at 9:58 p.m.

    Frank agree with a lot here, but would say that Dest is second tier, not third. Barca certainly never replaced Dani Alves at RB, but Dest has shown many times over that he is the right choice over Sergi Roberto who they originally thought would fill those shoes.

    They are certainly a complete mess, financially and in their squad build. I am quite sympathetic to Koeman and think he's doing a more than decent job with the squad at his disposal. Even with Messi's magic in the squad the writing has been on the wall for a few years. 

    There are some excellent players still in the squad, and boy do they need Pedri back, but anyone expecting this squad to be a real threat for the La Liga crown or to advance far in UCL are fooling themselves no matter who is at the helm.

  11. frank schoon, October 23, 2021 at 10:52 p.m.

    Bob, Seth, it is seen by teams to not try spend money on buying defenders that can you develop in your academy, for it is much easier to develop a defender as compared to a striker.  If Barcelona were to spend money on a defender they would get someone who is really experienced and is immediate starter.  Barca can not afford to have a defender that learns on the job training. 

    Dest has never earned a starting spot on Ajax. He just began to play some games on and off, getting some experience. He was never on the radar screen for other teams until he was seen playing some games for Ajax.
    To all of a sudden to go to Barca with little experience playing level competition much tougher than what Ajax faces at home as well as international, is beyond Dests level.  He came to Barca because of Koeman otherwise he would be at Barca. Fortunately for Dest Barca's quality has gone down tremendously and living on past laurels only. I quit watching Barca 6years ago....they no longer played the soccer they were known for.

    I don't that much about Sergio Robert, to compare Dest, for I quit watching Barca. Dani Alves was a  Wing Barca bought to play RB. Barca is a MESS and to see a player like Dest playing now for Barca says enough. I do like Pedri and Fati. Dest is to slow to play RB for Barca , he also needs to work on crossing. He lacks quickness, but than again it depends who his direct opponent is. 

    Koeman ,I hope , will not be the scapegoat for This Mess for Cruyff had predicted this about 8 years ago, giving warning to the president of Barca. 

    You know I would let Dest play sweeper for he has ball skills and has some of the Ajax Savvy and take the ball. He is good in the combination as well ......

  12. humble 1, October 26, 2021 at 3:26 p.m.

    It is true, Barca is a mess, almost a shambles.  Watching their player movement of the recent past it was very predictable.  It is also true that Koeman has a track record.  Based on his prior results, what is playing out on the pitch was entirely predictable.  For me, Koeman was brought in to be the hard-man / steward while the financial shambles is cleaned up.  In this, he has done well, though they entirely screwed up the exit of Messi, it is done now, and most of that falls to his predecessors.  I beleive he is being paid well.

  13. humble 1, October 26, 2021 at 3:29 p.m.

    Thank you for the in-person perspective. Colorful.  Enjoyed it.  Would love to make that journey one day.  Cheers!

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