It wasn’t that many years ago that the push from a large swath of US Men’s National Team observers was to get more players out of MLS and to Europe.
That still continues apace as both Brenden Aaronson from Philadelphia Union and Reggie Cannon from FC Dallas have either moved to Europe or are about to (RB Salzburg and Boavista, respectively). Now that that’s been accomplished, to an extent, it appears the Yanks have moved onto the next phase. It was just as long ago that the idea of American players on the biggest clubs in the world was a fantasy you’d pay a monthly subscription for on the credit card you keep hidden from your spouse. No longer.
In the same month that Weston McKennie moved to Juventus (and started their first match of the season, and was one of their best players), Sergino Dest appears to have resolved a titan fight between Bayern Munich and Barcelona by choosing to move to the latter from Ajax.
Dest, at some point this season, will become the first American to play for the first team at Barca, though Konrad de la Fuente has been in the youth set-up there and is on Barcelona B, the youth team, essentially. Along with Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna, and McKennie, Dest becomes yet another American player on one of the ten biggest clubs in the world.
In other times, you wouldn’t question choosing Barca over Munich. They are no worse than the second-biggest club in the world, the name Barcelona has a sheen to it that no other club besides Madrid can match, and you just happen to get to share the field with possibly the greatest player of all-time (also less chance of freezing your balls off in the middle of the season). Dest would even share a side of the field with Lionel Messi, and would be overlapping into the space that Messi often provides as he cuts inside.
But Barca certainly have their issues. Messi might be around for only this season and no more, and what Barcelona are without Messi is a question no one can answer. There’s a presidential election at the club set for March at the latest, and with every new Barcelona president means a new Barcelona direction and all that could entail.
Though perhaps that’s why Dest feels the path to the first team is clearer in Spain than in Germany. First off, Barcelona manager Ronald Koeman tried to get Dest to declare for the Dutch national team instead of the US when he managed that squad, so it’s clear that Koeman has an affinity for the player. While the left side of the Blaugrana’s defense has been locked down for years thanks to Jordi Alba, the right side has been murkier. Nelson Semedo has left for Wolves in England, and Sergi Roberto will turn 29 this season and also occasionally shifts into midfield. There’s a gap there.
Meanwhile, at Munich, Dest would have had to contend with Joshua Kimmich and Benjamin Pavard for starters. Getting on the field this season or in the next couple would have been more of a challenge.
Whichever club he chose, some patience will be key. Dest will turn just 20 in November and only has 23 appearances in the Dutch first division to his name. He’s not going to stroll in next week and start galavanting down the right as Alba does down the left at the Nou Camp. It’s likely he’ll be bedded in slowly. Still, it’s hard not to get excited about a right-back who managed four assists in just 20 appearances for Ajax at age 19.
Either way for US fans, it can’t be categorized as anything but tantalizing. It makes for yet another player who could be playing not just in the Champions League regularly, but have a shot at winning it at some point in the near future (assuming Barcelona go under a serious de-fucking of themselves under Koeman). Whenever qualifying for the 2022 World Cup gets going again, the US could roll out five players at least on Champions League clubs (Pulisic, Gio Reyna, McKennie, Tyler Adams, and Dest).
Are we completely free of watching promising moves undone by the Kaiju-like first touch of Gyasi Zardes or Jordan Morris? No, not yet. But it’s certainly a future that feels tangible instead of one next to Rivendale.