FIFA Men's World Cup
Dutch-born Sergiño Dest key for USMNT against Netherlands
FIFA Men's World Cup

Dutch-born Sergiño Dest key for USMNT against Netherlands

Updated Dec. 3, 2022 6:41 a.m. ET

AL RAYYAN, Qatar — Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal knows stopping U.S. star Christian Pulisic — who Van Gaal said Friday "can make a team win" — is the key against the United States in Saturday’s round of 16 matchup (10 a.m. ET, FOX and the FOX Sports app) at the 2022 World Cup.

For Oranje captain Daley Blind, the bigger threat could be right back Sergiño Dest

Blind knows Dest better than most. The two were teammates at Ajax during the 2019-20 season and Blind, a left wingback, will directly match up with the 22-year-old Dutch-born American.

"Sergiño broke through at Ajax at a young age — you could already see that he had a lot of talent and skill," Blind said at a press conference on the eve of the match. "He’s a very good player."


Dest has been better than good for Gregg Berhalter’s side in Qatar. Despite arriving with a minor leg injury that he picked up with Italy’s AC Milan just before the tournament, he has been one of the Americans’ top performers so far. 

Long known for his ability to jump into the attack — it was Dest who raced forward from his defensive position to set up Pulisic’s game-winning goal over Iran in the group-stage finale that qualified the U.S. for the knockout stage — Dest’s performances in his own half of the field have stood out.

"What I've seen from Sergiño in this World Cup, in particular, is just him take it to another level with his mindset and his mentality," Berhalter said. "He's been fantastic for us is this camp. I can't say enough about his defending in the penalty box."

Born to a Dutch mother and American father, and raised just outside of Amsterdam, Dest was eligible to represent both countries at the international level. Ignored by the Netherlands youth national teams while coming through the ranks at Ajax’s famed academy, he played for the U.S. under-17 and U-20 teams instead. 

When he broke into Ajax’s first team and then impressed in the UEFA Champions League a few months after starting for the U.S. at the 2019 U-20 World Cup, then-Netherlands manager Ronald Koeman tried to lure Dest away. Berhalter's U.S. Soccer sporting director Earnie Stewart flew to the Dutch capital and convinced him to stick with the Red, White and Blue. 

"Basically, it was about me just making a connection with him, talking to him about what we thought his role could be for us, what we think the plans are for this group of the next eight years, and then introducing him to his teammates and getting him into our environment," Berhalter said Friday. "It's a very tight-knit group, very welcoming to people coming into the group. And I think that's what ultimately helped him decide."

It was a perfect fit.

"He was a quiet guy, just getting to know everyone," U.S. captain Tyler Adams said. "But one thing you'll find in Sergiño is he's quite the character when he's comfortable. He's just an amazing human being to begin with. We know all his qualities on the field. But off the field, he’s fun to be around, and he’s brought so much energy into this team. He's so relaxed and calm in every situation, even before games."

The U.S. will need Dest’s composure against the favored Netherlands. Dest has no doubt been counting the minutes.

"It's going to be fun," he said after the Iran match. "I was born there, I speak the language, I know all these guys. They want to go through, but we have the same dream.

"We have a brotherhood," he said of the U.S. squad. "I can't wait to play the next match because it's going to be a pretty fun one, playing against the country I was born in."

A fierce competitor, he’ll be up for the challenge, too. Beating some of his former teammates would only make it sweeter.

"Hopefully," Berhalter said, "he has a great game."

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Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.


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