“Earnie and Gregg’s Excellent Adventure!”
That’s what I Tweeted after seeing the news that Sergino Dest had chosen to represent the USMNT over the Netherlands, a somewhat-stunning reversal after U.S. Soccer sporting director Earnie Stewart and men’s head coach Gregg Berhalter met with the teenage full back this weekend.
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A few friends texted to see if I was being sarcastic. After all, this hasn’t been a good few months for the USMNT and I had gone as far as to suggest that many federations would feel justified to make a switch after the Yanks lost in embarrassing fashion against both of its neighbors this Fall.
But no. Dest has chosen the USMNT, and Monday is a wonderful day for U.S. Soccer even if Dest fails to live up to his potential as a decade-long fullback for the red, white, and blue.
Reports out of Holland that Dest would make his decision this week seemed to favor the brilliant Oranje. Others suggested that he was going to choose the Netherlands for sure.
These decisions are highly-analyzed and sometimes a recruiting nation doesn’t have much hope in gaining the allegiance of a player. In addition to Dest, this century has seen the U.S. lose out on Neven Subotic and Jonathan Gonzalez, but gain Jermaine Jones and Julian Green (amongst others).
But if we’re going to question whether Dest would be lost because Ronald Koeman is an Ajax and Dutch hero, Berhalter played him at left back instead of right, and/or the USSF is a cluster of issues, then we ought to acknowledge that Berhalter and Stewart earning the player’s faith in spite of those facts is really impressive.
Ajax is unbeaten in Eredivisie player and Dest continues to run up the minutes and doesn’t turn 19 until Nov. 3. He might not have been automatic as the Netherlands national team fullback, but he was going to have to seriously regress to not get his chance.
Again, he’s 18 and started for one of the most storied club in Europe and almost certainly the most celebrated club in the country of his birth.
Dest has three assists this season in 913 minutes, averaging a shot per game and passing at an 87 percent clip. He’s an exceptional dribbler. While still very much a teenager in defense, Dest is averaging close to two tackles and an interception per match.
Losing Dest would’ve felt as bad as any dual national since Subotic, who went on to earn 36 caps for Serbia and currently sits on 360 senior appearances between senior club Union Berlin and former teams Borussia Dortmund, Saint-Etienne, Mainz, and Koln. Giuseppe Rossi’s choosing Italy didn’t feel good, but was also fait accompli.
It’s a moral victory for the United States’ supporters and a mild reprieve for Berhalter, whose team’s progress is really stuck in the mud. Dest can play in any system and gives the coach improved hope of implementing his preferred possession-based style.
Yet after the loss of Gonzalez and with big concerns about Mexico’s recruitment of Richie Ledezma, the 19-year-old dual national who just earned his first senior spot on the bench for PSV Eindhoven and is being recruited by Mexico. This is an exhalation, even against the backdrop of the stinging words coming former U.S. midfielder and scout Hugo Perez in an alarming article from The Nation last week.
You can’t help but think the news will ring out loudly to Ledezma, who is close to a senior call-up and could see one next month. Center back Chris Richards, 19, had been chewing up minutes for Bayern Munich II in 3.Liga before a recent illness. Chris Gloster is in the PSV system, and Giovanni Reyna highly regarded at Borussia Dortmund.
Assuming the USMNT pulls it together for the 2022 World Cup, the team could feature Zack Steffen in goal with a back line of Dest, John Brooks, Matt Miazga, and Antonee Robinson. The midfield could be Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, and Ledezma under a trident of Christian Pulisic, Josh Sargent, and Tim Weah.
The oldest of the bunch would be Brooks and Miazga at 29 and 27.
Excellent, Earnie and Gregg. For Berhalter, this could be his most notable week of work for his country since he made the 2006 World Cup roster.