SHORT HILLS, N.J. — When Sergino Dest chatted with Christian Pulisic about the UEFA Champions League group draw at U.S. Men’s National Team camp, he tried to get some inside information on where the American star would play. It’s never to easy for a scouting report.
“I was like, I will play against you, right?,” Dest said on Wednesday. “I was asking if he was playing on the left side or right side.”
“We’ll see,” Pulisic said. “Maybe I’ll be on his side. He’s an outside back and I’ll be a winger. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Dest, Pulisic and Timothy Weah are all lumped into Group H for the UCL group round that begins September 16 and 18.
Pulisic’s Chelsea and Dest’s Ajax will square off October 23 in Amsterdam and November 5 in London.
Lille, where the currently injured Weah plays, and Valencia are the other two sides in what Dest believes is a wide-open group.
“I loved (the draw),” Dest said. “It’s a pretty good group. Everybody has a chance to be first. For me, it’s just an opportunity to show myself to the world. I’m lucky that I will play Americans in the same group.”
Former New York Red Bulls manager Jesse Marsch leads RB Salzburg in Group E against Liverpool, Napoli and Genk, while USMNT midfielder Tyler Adams will play in Group G with RB Leipzig versus Zenit Saint Petersburg, Benfica and Lyon and goalkeeper Ethan Horvath is locked in Group A with Club Brugge alongside Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid and Galatasaray.
Pulisic has previous experience in the Champions League from his time at Borussia Dortmund, and he is excited for the games Dest and Weah will receive on Europe’s biggest stage.
“I’ve obviously played in some Champions League games before and it’s really exciting for those guys. They are going to get some great experience,” Pulisic said. “And I can take some of the things that I’ve learned with me and bring some of that to help me in those games.”
Weston McKennie, who participated in the Champions League last season with Schalke, knows first-hand about the exposure and experience the competition brings.
“I think for players, we speak about trying to have the world view American soccer in a different way and we’re trying to make soccer grow in America,” McKennie said. “These guys that are playing in Champions League, let alone being an American playing in Champions League, is a big deal. I think it’s bringing more eyes to the sport in America as well.”
Schalke did not qualify for this year’s edition, but the American midfielder is hopeful his club can return sooner rather than later.
“Last year standing there and hearing the Champions League anthem was a whole different feeling,” McKennie said. “It’s exciting to see Timothy Weah, Sergino and Christian and many other Americans being able to get these experiences. I think it’s a really big deal and a moment they won’t forget. I’m itching to try and get back into that stadium to hear that anthem.”
In the time building up to the Chelsea-Ajax matches, Dest is hoping to continue impressing the staff at the Dutch powerhouse to pick up more minutes, and maybe it will lead to a head-to-head showdown with his USMNT teammate.
“At the beginning of the season, I focused on being in the team and it’s going well so far. I want to stay there. I want to get into the first XI,” Dest said.
“I think, right now, it’s the biggest opportunity for your club, especially if you go far in the Champions League,” Dest said. “It’s better for my development and for everyone’s development.”