Three years after committing to play for the USMNT, the Dutch-born defender will play against his country of birth for the first time with a trip to a World Cup quarterfinal on the line. When Sergino Dest takes the field at Khalifa International Stadium this Saturday for the USA’s round of 16 matchup, the prospect of a potential elimination won’t be the only thing weighing on his mind. As he lines up at right-back, he’ll see a familiar color, with former teammates speaking in his native tongue.

Then-Netherlands’ manager Ronald Koeman attempted to convince him to join the Oranje, while Gregg Berhalter would later fly to Amsterdam to meet with the youngster as both sides sought a decision. 

Dest played for the US U-17 and U-20 squads in his younger days in relative obscurity, and partook in two friendlies for the US in September 2019 . But attention on the fledgling right-back continued to grow that year as he battled with the likes of Chelsea and Lille in the Champions League, and before long, Gregg Berhalter faced competition to keep Dest in the USA program.

Ultimately, the US won out in the defender’s mind, as Dest born to a Dutch mother and Surinamese-American veteran father decided to keep the same colors on his chest. ‘My heart told me the US was the best option for me,’ he told ESPN after making the decision.‘I was raised in the Netherlands. I love it here. But in life, you have to make difficult decisions. I felt the US was the best option. I had played in their youth teams, and I feel at home there.’

He also impressed vs. England, helping to quiet Raheem Sterling and causing the Three Lions problems on the flank. But it’s quite feasible he wouldn’t have landed with the Stars and Stripes if everything had gone to plan in his teenage days.

Since debuting for the US vs. Mexico in 2019, Dest has solidified his spot on the right of Berhalter’s back four previously during the qualifying cycle and now in Qatar. He’s played 231 of a possible 270 minutes for the US at this World Cup, and delivered a vital assist for Christian Pulisic’s winning goal vs. Iran. 

‘Every time I got to the [last round of selection] for the Netherlands youth team, I didn’t make it,’ he said. ‘I was like ‘s—, s—, s—,’ but my dad reminded me I also have an American passport. ‘A lot of people only want you when it’s going well. The USMNT helped me when it didn’t go well, and I’m thankful for that.’ Of course, Dest will also have connections with people on the opposing side this weekend.

At Ajax, he played alongside the Netherlands’ Daley Blind, Noa Lang and Jurrien Timber, while Frenkie De Jong and Matthijs de Ligt also starred for the club before he broke into its first team. By Dest’s own telling those connections have not faded, but Saturday is not just a reunion. For a player who felt unseen by the Netherlands setup until his talent was blindingly obvious, it’s a chance to make a statement.

‘I know almost every single guy over there,’ Dest said through a team spokesperson after the 1-0 win vs. Iran. ‘Yeah, it’s going to be fun of course. I was born there, I speak the language, I know all these guys. They want to go through, but we have the same dream. It’s going to be a fight again.’

With Cody Gakpo and Memphis Depay running at him, however, it won’t be an easy day for the on-loan Barcelona defender. Dest will know that. But if his previous remarks are any indication, he’s been relishing this challenge for quite some time.

If the USMNT are to win that fight, they’ll need Dest to keep up his steady form in Qatar. The right-back has been a focal point in the side, as just two players have made more key passes and touched the ball more in the attacking third. ‘In a few years we can compete with some good teams in the world…we’re coming,’ he told the Scuffed podcast in 2019. ‘The world doesn’t know it yet but we’re coming.’

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