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Sergiño Dest hitting stride for USMNT as he faces his native Netherlands in World Cup

DOHA, Qatar — Sergiño Dest will hear two national anthems he knows very well on Saturday at Khalifa Stadium. The one he grew up hearing, and the one he now plays for.

The Dutch-born Dest will face his native country for the first time since making the decision to represent the U.S. men’s national team, and will do so on the biggest stage in the sport. Saturday’s World Cup Round of 16 clash will be the most important match of Dest’s career, and he will see plenty of familiar faces as he looks to help the Americans upset the favored Dutch.

“It’s going to be fun, because, of course, I’m born there so I speak the language,” Dest said. “I know all these guys. They want to go through, but we have the same dream. So it’s gonna be a fight.”

Dest is enjoying a dream run at the FIFA World Cup, playing a key role in the USMNT’s run to the knockout rounds. He was excellent in the team’s 0-0 draw with England, and delivered the game-winning assist to beat Iran and secure the Round of 16 spot.

Dest’s run of form comes after a tough stretch at AC Milan, where he has struggled for playing time and picked up a minor injury in the weeks leading up to the World Cup. Dest was able to recover in time to retain his starting spot as the USMNT’s first-choice right back, and after a so-so performance against Wales, he has stepped his game up to help a U.S. defense that has allowed just one goal in three matches.

“Most importantly, what I’ve seen from Sergio in this World Cup in particular is just him take it to another level with his mindset and his mentality,” USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter said. “He’s been fantastic for us this camp. I can’t say enough about is defending in the penalty box, his ball security. Everything’s been doing really good. So we’re really happy for him and (Saturday) hopefully he has a great game.”

The USMNT won the fight for Dest’s services two years ago, when he chose to play for the United States rather than the Netherlands, which expressed interest in him after his breakthrough at Ajax and subsequent move to FC Barcelona.

Part of the reason for Dest’s decision was the commitment made by U.S. Soccer to him when he wasn’t the most highly-rated prospect. Dest played for the United States at the 2017 Under-17 World Cup and 2019 Under-20 World Cup before ever making a first-team professional appearance.

Dest’s breakthrough came in 2019, when he broke into the Ajax starting lineup and blossomed with the Dutch giants. That led to an eventual call up to the USMNT, and after a slow assimilation, Dest quickly became a fixture in Berhalter’s squad.

“When Sergiño first came into the team, no one really talked to him too much, because he was a quiet guy, just getting to know everyone,” USMNT captain Tyler Adams said. “But one thing you’ll find in Sergiño is he’s quite the character when he’s comfortable. He’s just an amazing human being, to begin with.

“We know all his qualities on the field, what he brings to his team, but off the field, he’s quite the character, fun to be around,” Adams said. “He’s brought so much energy into his team, He’s so relaxed and calm in every situation, even before games, you’re trying to make jokes with him. But he’s a great addition to this team since he’s walked into the locker room.”

Dest will have a key role to play on Saturday, as the USMNT will look to exploit the Dutch defense on his side of the field, where Dest’s former Ajax teammate Daley Blind operates as a left wingback. Dest’s attacking qualities will be key to the USMNT breaking through against a Dutch defense that has allowed just one goal at the World Cup.

What has been clear since the USMNT secured its place in the Round of 16, and a date with the Netherlands, is that Dest is looking forward to the chance to face the country he has such strong ties to, and face many of the same players he once called teammates at Ajax.

“It’s going be pretty fun one, playing against the country I was born in,” said Dest, who believes the USMNT can beat the highly-favored Dutch.

“I have full confidence,” Dest said.

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