Sergiño Dest notched his place in the young core of the United States men’s national team on Friday night, making an immediate impact on the backline during his first competitive match with the team.
Although Dest had already announced his commitment to the United States, Friday’s game made it official, cap-tying the 19-year-old defender to America. But on a night filled with importance for both the player and the team, coach Gregg Berhalter said Dest played with a mature level of calm.
“Sergiño is a gamer,” Berhalter said. “He’s the type of kid who shows up in a game and when the bright lights are on, he has no problem performing. I haven’t really seen much like that from a player, the ability to just step up and perform like that.”
Dest spent most of the night battling with Canadian Alphonso Davies, another young outside back who spent most of the match probing the American right flank for weaknesses. Dest welcomed the challenge, acknowledging his respect for Davies, who starts for Bayern Munich in the German Bundesliga.
Even against a player of Davies’ physicality and skill, however, Dest’s confidence never wavered.
“I just don’t play with stress,” Dest said. “I’m never scared to lose a ball. If I lose a ball, I lose a ball. If you don’t play with confidence you’re never gonna play a really good game.”
The initial loss to Canada in October caused an end-of-the-world reaction from many American fans. It was the first time that the United States had lost to Canada in over three decades, but it was also a night of other firsts — the first competitive away match for Berhalter and for seven of the players on the pitch.
The youth of the team, Berhalter said, has been and will continue to be the source of inconsistency. But on Friday night, the team’s youngest players also provided a style of free, energetic play that boosted the Americans on their way to a 4-1 victory.
Dest and fellow youngster Weston McKennie captured that energy in the 36th minute, when McKennie picked off a pass at midfield and sent it along to Dest. The defender broke away up the field, stutter stepping once before breaking into a head-down sprint to goal, pulling up to take a shot that barely flew left of frame.
It was a moment that Dest wanted back — “I’ll score that next time,” he promised with a grin after the game — but it showed the gutsy aggression that a young core can bring to a team.
“I like to see it,” centerback John Brooks said. “It’s not long [ago] I was a young guy too, so I like getting young players here. We’re getting that experience in for them.”
The game offered that young group a mid-stakes opportunity — an elimination game in a Concacaf tournament that had stakes high enough to create pressure, yet without risking serious qualification for an international tournament.
This was a growing experience, Berhalter said, and as such it wasn’t a perfect game. The Canadians dominated on-ball possession, and the Americans often struggled to pass efficiently in the midfield. Yet the shift of energy between the two matches against Canada emphasized the growth Berhalter is hoping to create in the national team.
“You have nights where you play absolutely brilliant and everything works and you’re executing everything and you’re scoring goals,” Berhalter said. “And then you have days that you don’t play great… and then you have days where you play horribly. In all those cases, you need to show the type of effort and type of tenacity that the group showed today.”