SHORT HILLS, N.J. — One of the best stories of the young European club season as far as the U.S. men’s national team is concerned is Sergino Dest, the 19-year-old Dutch-American fullback who parlayed a strong performance at the FIFA U-20 World Cup last spring into a strong training camp with Champions League mainstay Ajax.
Suddenly, Dest has found himself starting for the four-time European champs. And while that success led to last week’s call-up to the senior U.S. team that will take on Mexico Friday in a rematch of the 2019 Gold Cup final, it has also had another consequence: interest from the Royal Netherlands Football Association, or KNVB.
Talking to reporters at the USMNT hotel on Wednesday, Dest wouldn’t rule out representing his birth nation instead down the line.
“I’m happy for this opportunity. I’m happy that I’m here right now. I don’t know for the future yet,” he said.
Because Dest, whose American father will be in attendance at the MetLife Stadium Friday night, has played for the U.S. in official competitions like the U-17 and U-20 World Cups, he would have to petition FIFA for a one-time switch of national team allegiance in order to represent the Oranje.
Were he to step on the field for the U.S. in the four CONCACAF Nations League games in October and November, he would no longer be eligible to play for the Dutch. From the sounds of it, closing the door on the program that produced legends such as Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten, Dennis Bergkamp and Arjen Robben isn’t something he is willing to do. At least not yet.
“I keep the options open,” said the affable Dest, who is still not entirely comfortable in his second language. “I don’t know yet. I can’t make that decision.”
That’s not to say Dest doesn’t like playing for the U.S.
“It’s a big opportunity, and I’m also proud to play for them,” he said, adding that he feels valued by the U.S. “And for me, they gave me a lot of chances when I was younger. So I respect that.”
Things have happened quickly for the two-footed Dest, who insisted Wednesday that he’s equally comfortable at right and left back. When USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter called him a few weeks ago to extend the invite, he said he was surprised.
“He got an opportunity, he seized his opportunity, and now he’s a starter for Ajax, semifinalists in the Champions League. And that’s an unbelievable story,” Berhalter said. “Sergino’s in a good moment right now, and we definitely want to capitalize on that.”
“They give me a chance in preseason to play with the first team and it went very well,” Dest said. ”My focus was like, I want to stay there and I don’t want to go back to the second team. So I played really well, and they give me more chances and I succeeded with those chances.”
Earlier this week, Berhalter told Sports Illustrated that he was confident Dest would remain with the U.S. long-term. The USMNT has a long and successful history of fielding dual-nationals over the years, including current U.S. Soccer sporting director Earnie Stewart, who was also raised in the Netherlands. But with Dest admitting Wednesday that the KNVB has reached out to him with an offer to join the country’s U-23 side, there’s no guarantee he remains with the program.
Whatever (and whenever) he decides, Dest’s upward trajectory only figures to continue. A few weeks from now, when the Champions League group stage begins, Dest could find himself lining up against U.S. attacking star Christian Pulisic of Chelsea. Only time will tell whether Dest and Pulisic will remain teammates or become foes at the international level, too.
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