DAVENPORT, Fla. (AP) — Sergiño Dest’s decision to stay with the U.S. national team rather than switch to the Netherlands got a mixed reaction from his Ajax teammates.
"Some of them, they didn't like it," Dest said. "Some of them, they said just: `Congratulations: You followed your heart. So that's always good.’"
An 18-year-old outside back who has become an Ajax regular this season, Dest made his U.S. national team debut in September and played exhibitions against Mexico and Uruguay. He skipped last month’s CONCACAF Nations League matches against Cuba and Canada in order to keep his options open, then announced Oct. 28 he was committing to the U.S. program long-term.
"It's a hard decision, of course, because you are for both of them," Dest said Wednesday, two days before he likely will make his senior national team competitive debut. "I just made my own decision. It's my life. If it's not working out well. I'm the one who is dealing with the trouble.”
Dest has a Surinamese-American father and Dutch mother. He came up through the U.S. youth national team programs, playing for the Americans at the 2017 Under-17 World Cup and the 2019 Under-20 World Cup.
The Dutch national team, winner of the 1988 European Championship and a three-time World Cup finalist, tried to persuade Dest to ask FIFA for a switch of affiliation. Dest’s American youth team background was stressed by U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter and U.S. Soccer Federation sporting director Earnie Stewart when they had lunch with Dest and his father, Ken, on Oct. 24, the day after Dest and Ajax played Chelsea and American star Christian Pulisic in the Champions League.
Dest announced his decision on Oct. 28 and will be cap-tied once he appears in a competitive match.
"He is part of our future and we're going to make sure that he develops himself to a player that will perform in '22 and '26," Stewart said Tuesday. "What happened in his youth national team career helped the conversations with Sergiño, with his father, with his management in securing him for our U.S. national team, which is great for the program.”
Dest’s decision came 21 months after Monterrey midfielder Jonathan González, now 20, switched to Mexico after coming up through the American youth national team program.
LA Galaxy midfielder Efraín Álvarez, also eligible for the U.S. and Mexico, has made four starts and once substitute appearance for El Tri as it advanced to a Thursday semifinal against the Dutch at the Under-17 World Cup.
Dest said his time with the U.S. program "might be the biggest influence" in his choice.
"I think I made the right decision," Dest added. "Now I have to make sure that I made a good one and show what I've got."
Stewart, now 50, grew up in the Netherlands with a Dutch mother and a father who was in the U.S. Air Force. He, too, played for a Dutch club and joined the U.S. national team, and played in three World Cups while scoring 17 goals in 101 international appearances from 1990-2004.
"It was very, very similar," Stewart said, comparing their histories. "His father played an important role, very proud American, ex-military veteran that's in Europe right now. Very proud that his son is going to play for the U.S. national team as my father was for me."
Stewart’s experience resonated with Dest.
"It's always good to hear from people that are also Dutch-American, and they also have a story in the U.S.,” Dest said. “My decision that I made, I listened to everybody's advice, but it's just a decision I'm making.”
Dest said his father was pleased, as was his mom.
“I think if I go play for the Netherlands, he would also be happy. He's just happy when I'm happy. He's a dad," Dest said. “They're just like, `OK, if you want to make that decision then, it's your life. You have to make your own decisions.’”
The U.S., rebuilding after its failure to reach last year’s World Cup, hosts Canada on Friday night at Orlando in another Nations League match, then finishes group play against Cuba at George Town, Cayman Islands. To advance to the semifinals, the Americans must win both games and overcome a goal difference of four against Canada.
In a game Dest skipped last month, the U.S. lost 2-0 at Toronto.
"That's not going to happen the next game on Friday,” Dest said. “We're not going to lose.”