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Profiling Ajax's Sergino Dest: The USMNT's Next Superstar? | SK Wonderkids

Rahul Iyer
ANALYST
Feature
Modified 21 Dec 2019, 01:05 IST

Dest is seen by many as world football
Dest is seen by many as world football's next great defensive prospect

Almere is a small Dutch town situated in the Flevoland province of the Netherlands, 33 kilometres east of the bustling city of Amsterdam, Holland's capital. The city's big claim to fame is that it is a planned city, and is recognized as Holland's newest one, when it was completed in 1984. Almere's beauty lies in its almost paradoxical nature; its spectacular modern architecture juxtaposes beautifully with the serenity and calm of the mesmerizing beachside scenery, where kitesurfing and sailing are among the primary recreational activities.

It seems apt, then, that the man (well, boy, almost) at the centre of arguably the most high-profile case of dual eligibility in international football was born here. On the 3rd of November 2000, Sergino Dest was born to a Dutch mother and American father. The two met when Kenneth, Sergino's father, was stationed in Holland on military duty. As a result, Sergino would be eligible to represent either the Dutch or American national team. (In fact, Kenneth himself is of Surinamese descent, so he may well have been eligible to play for Suriname, but that's a story for another time.)

In 2012, Dest joined the youth academy of Almere City FC, a club that was even younger than he was, founded as they were in 2001. He wasn't there for long, however, as, the same year, he upped sticks to move to Ajax's famed youth set-up just half an hour down the road. Given that Almere is also recognized as a sister city to Amsterdam, where AFC Ajax is based, Dest is, therefore, for all intents and purposes, Amsterdam-and Ajax-born and bred.

Dest representing Ajax in the UEFA Champions League
Dest representing Ajax in the UEFA Champions League

After six years in the academy, Dest made his debut in senior football in the Dutch second division, with the Ajax B team, Jong Ajax, in October 2018. He made only 24 appearances over the course of the 2018/19 season, but that was enough for manager Erik ten Hag to spot his potential and call him up to the first-team squad following the sale of defender Matthis de Ligt. He eventually made his Ajax debut on the 27th of July 2019 in the traditional curtain-raiser of the Dutch footballing season, the Johan Cruyff Schaal, against rivals PSV Eindhoven in a 2-0 win.

Dest is a right-back by trade, and a modern one in every sense of the word, using his searing pace to either get forward and supplement the attack, or to get back and bail his team out when they lose the ball high up the pitch. So far this season, he has started 7 of Ajax's 13 Eredivisie games, and 3 out of their 4 in the Champions League, beating out competition from the likes of Noussair Mazraoui and Joel Veltman. So far this season, he has excelled, averaging 2.7 ball recoveries and 0.9 key passes per game, along with completing 0.6 dribbles per game and providing 3 assists. He is also an accurate passer, as most Ajax youth products are, as evidenced by his pass accuracy of 87.8%.

Dest holds dual Dutch and American citizenship
Dest holds dual Dutch and American citizenship

Dest's international career began when he represented the USA under-17 team in 2016, and went on to play at the U-17 World Cup in India in 2017 under head coach John Hackworth. In an interview conducted over the phone during the tournament, Dest, then still only 16, professed his love for the United States when he said, "My first time to America was in 2014 and I went to New York. When I went to New York, my eyes went wide open. I've never seen anything so big. I visited my uncle. In Holland, things are pretty small. I loved it. I think New York is the best city." In the same interview, Dest then went on to claim that the team was "similar to a European team" and that they could become as good as anyone else in the world.

Indeed, many players in that team, which boasted the likes of Josh Sargent, Timothy Weah, Andrew Carleton and James Sands among others, made waves two years later at the 2019 U-20 World Cup, and Dest was there as well. In fact, it were his performances at this tournament which made many stand up and take notice of him, especially the Dutch footballing federation, the KNVB. Playing as he did for the country's biggest club, Dest had always been on their radar, but it was only earlier this year that the officials began to take him seriously.

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In the period between this summer and now, Dest remained stubbornly tight-lipped on his future at international level. Both federations knew that they could tie him to their country if he made a competitive appearance for the senior side, and as a result of him not yet making his choice, he resisted senior call-ups from both nations on several occasions. He did appear in friendlies for the United States, however, which many felt was a massive hint that he would eventually choose the USA, and they were proved right on October 28, 2019, when Dest made public his decision to represent the Stars and Stripes at international level, and made his competitive debut in a 4-1 CONCACAF Nations League win over neighbours Canada on the 16th of November 2019, thus cap-tying him to the States.

Dest finally chose red, white and blue over orange
Dest finally chose red, white and blue over orange

Despite his excellent technical and footballing ability, however, several coaches and players have spoken about Dest's resiliency and outstanding mental attributes. Adam Belz, who runs the Scuffed podcast, noted when he interviewed him that Dest has a unique combination of confidence and humility that many fail to find a balance between. Football analyst and lifelong Ajax fan Marc Geschwind also said that his composure seemed to be the strongest part of Dest's game, calling him "Dani Alves or Marcelo-Esque".

In terms of club football, Dest has been linked to numerous Premier League clubs, including Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, but has stated that his preference, if he were to leave Ajax, would be to play for Real Madrid or Barcelona, as he feels that "the Premier League is good, but I don't know if it fits my style. It is very physical."

So while English football fans may feel a bit let down by his comments, their cousins across the Atlantic certainly have cause for celebration, as the USMNT seems to have the core of a world-class side coming through the ranks, with likes of Josh Sargent, Weston McKennie, Christian Pulisic, Timothy Weah, Jackson Yueill and Zack Steffen, besides Dest, who could potentially launch a full-scale assault on world football at the 2026 home World Cup, a tournament at which Dest will be 26 years old, and entering the prime of his career. Make no mistake, if the USA has any sort of success in the years to come, there is no doubting that Dest will have a huge role to play in it.

Published 20 Nov 2019, 03:49 IST
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