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Ajax defender Sergiño Dest hopes to improve on first USMNT appearance

The Dutch-born defender made his first senior team appearance against Mexico.

United States defender Sergiño Dest looks to pass the ball during an international friendly soccer match against the Mexico, Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, in East Rutherford, N.J. Mexico won 3-0. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano)

EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey – A few things have to happen for Sergiño Dest to become the United States men’s national team’s future fullback.

Most notably, he has to choose to become cap-tied to the U.S. over his native-born Netherlands, where he currently plays club soccer for Ajax. Of equal importance will be his ability to develop and improve on his performances, starting with his contributions in the USMNT’s 3-0 loss to Mexico at MetLife Stadium Friday night.

Dest, who is 18 and has represented the U.S. U-17 and U-20 teams, earned his first senior international cap by starting the friendly match on a newly-engineered American back line that’s putting more of an emphasis on passing.

“My first cap was a special moment, but hopefully I’ll get more and develop myself,” Dest said.

On a night when not much went right for the Americans, Dest, who played the first 67 minutes before getting subbed out, had one of the team’s best looks at goal when he fired a blast from outside the penalty area that skipped off Mexico goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco’s fingertips in the 14th minute.

But Dest also got faked out by Jorge Sanchez on the left flank in the 21st minute, which set up Mexico’s opening goal.

“It’s just something that can happen in soccer,” Dest said after the game when asked about his role in Mexico’s first strike, which was headed in by Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. “It’s not like I can’t do anything against [Sanchez]. It’s just a great action from him. I don’t think I played a bad game, just that moment was crucial. I have to learn from it.”

U.S. defender Sergino Dest leaves the field after he was replaced by a substitution during the second half of the team’s international friendly soccer match against Mexico on Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, in East Rutherford, N.J. Mexico won 3-0. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter instructed his players to build from the back, which had mixed results over the course of the match. While the Americans managed to practice a more nuanced possession game, they also got overrun by Mexico’s pressure. Two of Mexico’s goals came from giveaways, while El Tri’s opener started with Dest getting nutmegged by Sanchez and ended with Chicharito scoring off an unmarked header in the heart of the penalty area.

After the game, Berhalter defended his decision to put the back line under duress and play out of the back. He also praised Dest on his debut.

“To me, it’s about developing players,” Berhalter said. “Sergino Dest, playing at this level, his first cap — I’m so proud of the guy. Did he make mistakes? Of course. But I can’t be more proud of a guy who goes out there and tries to do things.”

Keeping Dest in the U.S. system is a high priority for Berhalter. Though Dest is only now emerging as a potential long-term option for the USMNT at full back, he’s started earning playing time at the position with Ajax and could factor greatly in the club’s Champions League ambitions this season.

And while Dest has been noncommittal about playing for the Americans permanently, he said Friday he’s open to returning to the USMNT in the future.

“I think we have to improve on some things,” Dest said. “We didn’t play that well in my opinion. We could have played much better. Mexico took the win. We just have to develop as a team, and we’ll be ready for the next game.”

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