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The USMNT's Brightest Dual National Is Suddenly On The Fence

Photo: Manuel Queimadelos Alonso (Getty)

Recent USMNT debutante Sergiño Dest played all 90 minutes of Ajax’s 3–0 romp over Valencia in the Champions League today. Under normal circumstances, that would be cause for unbridled celebration, since Dest is just 18 years old and has already risen through the ranks of one of Europe’s best academies to assume an everyday role on a team that went to the Champions League semifinals last year. However, Dest’s bright turn came on the very same day he made it known that his international future might not be with the United States.

When the USMNT announced their 26-man roster for next week’s games against Cuba and Canada, Dest’s name was the most conspicuous omission. Dest led the USA U-20 team earlier this summer at the U-20 World Cup, then earned his first two caps for the USMNT senior team last month. He was identified as a possible “next big thing” for the U.S. program and seemed primed to lock down one of the full back spots for a decade. Unfortunately for the U.S., Dest has made a name for himself so quickly at Ajax that the Dutch national team has come calling.

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Dest, the son of a Surinamese-American father and a Dutch mother, was born and raised in the Netherlands. Though he has played in the U.S. system since 2016 and has those two USMNT caps, he is still eligible to play for the Dutch. The Washington Post’s Steven Goff reported today that Dutch skipper Ronald Koeman met with Dest last week, and that Dest himself declined his USMNT call-up to take more time to decide his international future. This month’s games are competitive FIFA matches, which would mean that Dest would’ve cap-tied himself to the USMNT for good had he taken the field.

USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter said he’s talked to Dest and remains in conversation with him. “We’ve had a number of conversations with Sergiño,” he said, “and we’re going to leave the content of those conversations private. They were positive talks and we’re going to leave it at that.”

This feels very ominous! The Netherlands are a better team than the USMNT, obviously, so no one can fault him for wrestling with the decision. Though Dest would have to fight harder for playing time there, the Dutch starting right back spot is ripe for the taking. Should he declare allegiance to the Oranje, he’d probably be the favorite to start for them as soon as next summer’s Euros.

The USMNT could perhaps someday approach the level where the defection of a very talented dual national didn’t feel so devastating, but we are not there yet.

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