As good as advertised! Dest shows Champions League quality in outstanding USMNT debut

Dest Davies USMNT Canada
The Ajax full-back made a promise ahead of Friday's clash against Canada, and he more than lived up to the hype

Sergino Dest could have eased into the true start of his U.S. men's national team career. Following weeks of will-he-or-won't-he speculation, you wouldn't have blamed the up-and-coming Ajax star if he opted to play it cool. He could have stuck to the cliches, saying how happy he was to wear the crest and how he hoped to earn his place with the team.

That wasn't the route he took. There were no cliches and there was no feeling-out process. In their place, there was a guarantee.

“On Friday, we’re not going to lose.”

With that pledge, Dest gave a glimpse into the player and person that chose to represent the U.S. despite heavy interest from the Netherlands. On Friday night, that glimpse turned into a full-on showcase for a player that looked every bit as good as promised.

The Ajax full-back started for the U.S. in Friday's must-win clash with Canada, one that came just weeks after that same Canada team that battered the USMNT 2-0 in Toronto. Friday was a totally different story, with Dest's guarantee coming to fruition in the form of a resounding, if not dominant, 4-1 victory.

That victory, which puts the U.S. one win over Cuba away from advancing in the Nations League, sealed Dest's commitment. The teenage star is now officially cap-tied and, if Friday was any indication, the U.S. has a full-back that should be a vital part of this team's core for quite some time.

"This is official, so it feels like there's no way back any more, " Dest said after the win. "I'm proud. It's an honour to play for the national team."

He added: "It's just a great feeling, to play your first official game for your country. I'm glad that I made this choice."

That choice, which saw him spur overtures from Ronald Koeman and the Dutch side, was a major one for the Ajax star. At just 19 years old, Dest has truly broken through with the Eredivisie powerhouse this season, becoming the latest young player to shine in Amsterdam. 

Dest had been a part of the U.S. youth national team system since he was 16 years old and, ultimately, that familiarity and that emotional connection to the program and his teammates kept him committed despite interest from a Dutch team that outshines the U.S. in just about every way on the field.

It would have been easy for Dest to show some nerves in Friday's match, one which felt like a debut despite it being his third senior cap. In his first appearance, a friendly against Mexico, Dest was terrorised by Jesus Corona in a resounding loss. In his second, he struggled against Uruguay. Recently, he's been left out of the Ajax line-up after locking down the starting spot earlier in the season.

But there were no nerves. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Less than three minutes into his first official match, Dest provided an assist, intentional or not, to set up Jordan Morris' goal. He won a header to set up the USMNT's second of the night, too.


The statistics aren't what stood out, though, but rather the comfort. Dest looked every bit like a player that feels comfortable no matter the stage, whether it's a muggy night in Orlando or a Champions League match at Mestalla. 

In the attack, he repeatedly got forward, showing speed and flair that we haven't seen from an American full-back in quite some time. In defence, he handled Alphonso Davies every time the Bayern Munich full-back/winger got forward, commanding that side of the field. 

Dest, by every measure, was as good as advertised. 

“Sergino is a gamer," USMNT boss Gregg Berhalter said. "He’s the type of kid that shows up in a game when the bright lights are on. He has no problem performing and we haven’t really seen much like that from a player, the ability to just step up and perform like that. 

“We’re really happy that he committed to us and you can see his overall display today how calm and smart he is in some situations. It’s really going to help our program moving forward.”

Dest added:  "I think I just don't play with stress. I'm never scared to lose a ball. If I lose a ball, I lose a ball, but if you don't play with confidence, you're never going to play a really good game. That's why I always play with confidence. If I lose the ball, that's it."

At some point in the near future, there will be a point where Dest loses a ball or makes a mistake. Such is the life of a teenager on this stage. He'll have ups and downs with Ajax and with the USMNT and much of his progression will depend on how he commands those ups and downs.

For now, though, the U.S. can be confident in the fact that they've brought in a player that can truly be a game-changer. There aren't many Champions League-calibre players strolling into U.S. camps these days. 

The hope is that that changes in the coming years as the USMNT's young squad grows together with the likes of Dest, Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams forming a core that can guide the U.S. through the next few World Cup cycles.

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Dest's USMNT career began with a choice and then a guarantee. The full-back bet on himself and his team-mates and won. But, if Friday night is any indication, the USMNT are the biggest winners, having won the proverbial lottery by emerging victorious in the Dest sweepstakes. 

"He's just raw talent. He's incredible," USMNT forward Gyasi Zardes said. "He's going to have an amazing career with the national team and with his club. I'm excited to just watch his growth."

It's safe to say Zardes isn't the only one. In fact, you can guarantee it.