Who: USMNT vs Mexico
When: Friday, September 6th at 8:30pm ET
Where: Red Bull Arena, Harrison, New Jersey
Line: USMNT +210 | Draw +240 | Mexico +130
Florham Park, NJ – USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter’s Sergino Dest Appreciation Tour continued with Thursday afternoon’s announcement that the Dutch-born U.S. dual national will start tonight’s rivalry match at MetLife Stadium versus Mexico.
Berhalter’s reveal was the biggest news to emerge from his press conference. It continues the USMNT’s wooing of Dest, whose impressive play for Ajax has prompted concerns of a Dutch swoop.
Communication is key in keeping Dest
Asked about Dest and about dual nationals in general, Berhalter said on Thursday, “It’s about communicating with these players and then creating an environment that they want to be in. I think that’s important.”
Berhalter was wise to stress communication, given the criticism U.S. Soccer has faced over losing the likes of Jonathan Gonzalez, who faulted U.S. coaches and staffers for not keeping in contact with him before switching his international allegiance to Mexico.
Berhalter then narrowed his focus to Dest. “Sergino is here, he’s doing great in camp, he’s going to play, he’s going to start the game tomorrow.” The revelation came as a surprise and it was notable that the coach gave no other hints regarding the U.S. lineup.
Berhalter continued, emphasizing Dest’s U.S. connections:
“It’s a great opportunity for us to forget about the dual national part of it just to, you know, to give a player who’s been in our youth national team program, who’s played strong in the under 20 World Cup, who’s now broken in with the first team of Ajax, to give him an opportunity with the first team.”
Getting Dest cap-tied
From there, Berhalter continued to play down his and U.S. Soccer’s pursuit of Dest. The upcoming Ajax star can be cap tied at next month’s CONCACAF Nations League. Berhalter said, “I think that’s what, that’s what’s nice about this story, you know, it’s not about, to me the dual nationalism of him. It’s about, he’s come from our programming, and he’s performed well, and he’s really achieved something in this short period of this short month at Ajax, and it’s nice to be able to reward that.”
Berhalter’s remarks on Thursday are consistent with his evaluation of Dest in a conference call with U.S. Soccer media just eight days ago. Then the U.S. coach made his enthusiasm for the Ajax man clear.
“Sergino is a guy we’ve been tracking, we’ve been watching his progress with Ajax, making his way up to the first team. We’re excited about him. We’re excited he can play both wing-back positions, he has a good offensive skill set. He fits into the profile we’re looking for in our fullbacks. We’ve been really intrigued with how he’s been playing in Ajax.”
Berhalter also praised the 18-year old’s cerebral ability saying, “I really like how he interprets it (the game).”
Dest fits a glaring need for the USMNT squad
Part of what Berhalter likes so much about Dest is that ability to play on either flank. Dest made little of the difference at Wednesday’s round table press meetings saying with a shrug, “for me it doesn’t matter.” Asked which he preferred, Dest again replied simply, “it doesn’t matter.”
Given the problem that the USMNT has had in filling the left fullback role over the years, it is no surprise that Berhalter is excited about Dest. However, Dest seems better suited to the right side in Berhalter’s system, which often features a stay at home fullback on the left paired with a right-sided fullback that tucks in and plays centrally in an attacking role when the U.S. is in possession.
Wherever Dest lines out at MetLife Stadium, the prospect of facing Mexico is unlikely to phase him.
And there is this, Dest’s reaction on Wednesday to facing the USMNT’s biggest rival. “Yeah, I’m looking forward because it’s a rival for the U.S. And at the CONCACAF (U20) that was like, my first time against Mexico. And yeah, so as soon as I’ve heard it’s the rival of the U.S., I always want to be there. So yeah, I hope I can play.”
Tonight Dest will get that chance. Will it be enough to sway the dynamic fullback to choose the U.S. over the Netherlands?