A very strange thing happened in 2020. After years of ludicrous farce, highlighted by their inability to draw with Trinidad & Tobago to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, the US men’s soccer team suddenly started to look, well, competent. And maybe a little more than competent … maybe like a team that could make a deep run when the US co-hosts the World Cup with Mexico and Canada in 2026.
Frankly, Sergiño Dest’s name could have been swapped out here for any of the young talents coming through for the US – Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Chris Richards (Bayern Munich), Weston McKinnie (Juventus), Konrad De La Fuente (Barcelona B), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen) and, go on then, Christian Pulisic (Chelsea). All of those players are 22 or under and all of them will be in their prime once 2026 comes around. Of course, we’ve been told that American men’s players are about to hit the big time since the days of Freddy Adu. But the sheer volume of young US talent at Europe’s top clubs, means some of them will mature into very good players indeed.
Like many of the names above, the 20-year-old Dest is a product of the European system rather than being US born and bred. He grew up in the Netherlands (his father was a US serviceman) and he didn’t visit America until 2014, and his story is perhaps an admission on the part of US Soccer that many of its best players in the future will develop in Europe.
Whatever his background, Dest has had an extraordinary year. He started it at one of the biggest clubs in Europe, Ajax, before moving to possibly the biggest club, Barcelona, in October. How highly do Barcelona rate him? The club inserted a €400m ($486m) buyout clause into his contract. Dest started his career as a winger and he blends his attacking skills into his role at right-back. That facet of his game was on show when he grabbed the opening goal of Barcelona’s 4-0 Champions League win over Dynamo Kyiv in November. By doing so, he became the first American to score for Barcelona.
By all accounts, Dest is unlikely to rest on his laurels. “He does so much stuff on the side, whether it’s strength programs, speed programs, looking at video of his next opponent,” former US under-20 assistant coach Dave van den Bergh told the Guardian last year. “It’s remarkable how seriously he takes all those aspects of his game; it doesn’t stop with practice or 90 minutes of a game. He’s really committed to his craft and to getting better.”
Tab Ramos, who also worked with Dest during his time with the US under-20s, agrees. “He’s a great kid,” Ramos said. “He’s a bit introverted, but he’s super-nice, he’s a great person. He’s good to his team-mates. He’s a team player. He’s a giver rather than a taker. He always gives good effort. He’s a great player any coach would want to coach.”
This series is not necessarily a list of the best US athletes of the year, but focuses instead on the impact they have made on the sports landscape and beyond. Having said that, they could probably still beat you at any sport of your choosing.