ORLANDO — The Sergino Dest that greeted media at U.S. Men’s National Team camp on Wednesday looked far more relaxed than the Dest who last faced American media back in September, when he was still carrying the weight of a life-altering decision.
Dest took time to shake the hand of every reporter in attendance, both before and after his interview session. He even flashed a playful side, reacting hilariously when he thought a reporter was asking him to sing the Star Spangled Banner.
In short, Dest looked like someone who was enjoying the freedom that came with deciding his international future, and choosing to represent the United States instead of his native Netherlands.
“It felt great (to make a decision) because everybody was pulling on me,” Dest said on Wednesday. “Everyone wanted to know an answer. I just took my time and I think I made the right decision.”
Dest received input from everyone from teammates to coaches, and his parents, but the 18-year-old was careful to stress that he wasn’t steered toward choosing the United States by any specific outside influence.
“I just made my own decision. I don’t think they had a lot of influence,” Dest said. “I think it’s my life and if it’s not working out I’m the one who is going to be in the trouble, so that’s the reason why I wanted to make my own decision. I’m old enough to make them.
“My dad is happy too, but I think if I would have played for the Netherlands he would also be happy,” Dest said. “He’s just happy when I’m happy. He’s a dad.”
Dest also received input from U.S. Men’s National Team general manager and former USMNT star Earnie Stewart, who, like Dest, was born and raised in the Netherlands before ultimately playing for the United States. Stewart and USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter traveled to Amsterdam in October to discuss Dest’s decision.
“It’s always good to hear from people that are also Dutch-American and that 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 made and I think it was the best decision for me so that’s why I made it.”
Dest has rejoined the team two months after making his USMNT debut in September. He started in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay, an experience that he enjoyed, but that wasn’t what ultimately led him to choose the United States.
“It’s not only about those two games,” Dest said. “It’s like, in general, all the time that I’ve spent with the U.S. I think it helped me very well. That might be the biggest influence on my decision.”
Dest sat out the October Nations League matches as he weighed his international future, and wound up missing the USMNT loss to Canada. He didn’t get to watch the match due to the time difference, but made it clear he intends on doing his part to ensure the result is turned around on Friday in the Nations League rematch.
“I heard the result wasn’t good, and it was the first time in 34 years or something that we lost against them,” Dest said. “That’s not going to happen the next game. Friday we’re not going to lose.”
Dest has enjoyed a whirlwind start to the season at Ajax, emerging as a regular starter for the Dutch champions after an impressive summer display with the United States at the Under-20 World Cup. His good form with Ajax helped earn him the call from the USMNT in September, but in recent weeks he has lost his hold on a starting job. The young defender isn’t fazed by that, and has still come into USMNT full of confidence.
“If I’m not playing it’s not like I’m going backwards because you can also do a lot of things when you’re not playing and when the rest of the world doesn’t see it,” Dest said. “I’m still working on it, and the moment I have a chance again I will show myself.”
Dest should have a chance to show himself to his adoring USMNT fans on Friday when the United States faces a must-win situation against Canada. Appearing in that match will officially cap-tie him to the United States, but Dest no longer needs that formality to make things official. In his mind, there is no going back, and the comfort the decision has brought him lets him know he made the right call.
“It’s a hard decision of course because you’re from both of them, but you have to make decisions in life,” Dest said. “I made one and I’m glad that I made one, and now I have to make sure that I made a good one and show what I’ve got.”