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How the USMNT found and kept Dest

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With the stroke of a pen on Gregg Berhalter’s lineup card and the referee’s whistle to finish the game, a 4-1 U.S. Men’s National Team victory over Canada, Sergino Dest officially tied his future to the USMNT. It was arguably the final step in a recruitment that began more than three years ago thanks to a message from Amsterdam, Netherlands to Dave van der Bergh.

Since retiring as a player, the former New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas winger has spent his time coaching youth teams within U.S. Soccer, and in this instance, he was working with then U.S. Under-17 head coach John Hackworth. Hackworth was unavailable for comment on this story.

Dest first came on van der Bergh’s radar from a contact at Ajax, where van der Bergh came through the youth academy, and it led to Dest’s first call-ups to the U.S. U-17s in 2016.

“I was tipped off by people at Ajax that there was a player with a dual nationality, and considering that we had been looking at dual nationalities, that I should take a look at him,” van der Bergh said in an e-mail. “I found out about him through the club itself, actually.

“The first time I saw him, I asked for video footage from Ajax, which they gave to me and that was great. Then I asked a really good friend of mine to take a look at him for us. He is somebody I really trust as far as scouting goes, and he said the same things that I thought I had seen. That’s when I decided to tell John Hackworth about him.”

Hackworth and co. brought Dest along slowly, getting him incorporated in the group. He was a reserve in the 2016 Nike International Friendlies as a 15-year-old, with Sporting KC defender Jaylin Lindsey starting ahead of him at the time.

But while the U.S. Soccer Federation was at turmoil at the top – this was just months after Jurgen Klinsmann was fired and replaced by Bruce Arena after his season with the LA Galaxy wrapped up – Dest was making a very good first impression to the coaches.

“I thought that it was unusual,” former U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team coach Tab Ramos recalled in a phone interview. “Normally, our defenders on youth national teams, 1-on-1 they usually have a lot to learn. I felt that Sergino was one of those defenders that never got beat 1-on-1, and that caught my attention.”

Dest wasn’t part of the U.S. U-17s run to the CONCACAF Under-17 final in 2017, but he earned a spot on the 2017 FIFA Under-17 World Cup roster, and it’s where he became a breakout star for American soccer fans. His impact  play from left back or right back added a new element to the U.S. attack and he held his own defensively.

Since then, Dest has continued to progress for club and country at a rapid rate. He helped lead the U.S. U-20s to the CONCACAF U-20 Championship and a run to the quarterfinals at the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup, and for Ajax he went from the U-19s in 2017 to Jong Ajax a year later and now a sure-fire starter at right back for the first team in 2019.

“He just became more and more mature,” Ramos said of Dest’s progression as a player in a short span. “He became more of an impact player on the attacking side of the field, and in general I give the players the freedom to express themselves within the context of the way we want to play. I think he was happy with the way we played and it allowed him to express himself, so it worked really well.”

His success in the Ajax first team of course got the attention of the Dutch National Team, who suddenly had an interest in Dest. In the youth stages, it made more sense for Dest to play with the U.S. because he’d have a better opportunity to play at a youth World Cup. The Netherlands hasn’t made the World Cup at U-20 or U-17 level since they hosted the U-20 World Cup in 2005, a shocking statistic considering all the stars they’ve produced over the years.

Suddenly, Dest was being faced with the prospect of competing for playing time on a team that made the final four less than a decade ago and looks to be surging back to prominence, or staying with the only national team program he’d known. The U.S. stepped up its recruitment in September when Gregg Berhalter called Dest in for a pair of matches, first against Mexico and then against Uruguay, where the teenager started both matches. At the same time, his former coach Ramos was keeping in touch with Dest once he decided in October to take more time to make his decision between the U.S. and the Netherlands.

“I continue to be in contact with Serg like I do with many of the players,” Ramos said. “Basically, my recommendation to him was to go with his heart. I feel like, of course you can listen to your agent and you can listen to people in the press, and you can always choose what’s more convenient to you, for your career. But I think the most important thing when playing for a country is to choose where your heart is. That’s basically what I told him.”

Dest made his decision to stay with the U.S. on October 28, and it was a big win for a USMNT program that had lost promising midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez in a similar situation to Mexico. Even bigger, Ramos noted, was that Dest wasn’t born and raised in the U.S., and his main connection with his nation was through the national team itself.

“I’m very proud of that, because it means he has a trust in our program and he’s confident that he’s going to get the most out of his opportunities that he gets here with our program,” Ramos said. “I think it goes to show the great job Hackworth did with him and how happy he was to be with us in the U-20s that he feels like this is his home.

“You have to remember this a kid who never lived in the U.S., he grew up in Holland, and that the closest thing for being home for him has been our youth national teams. I think he felt comfortable. He’s been comfortable and he felt like we took care of him, and he’s been happy. That’s just my feeling.”

Alli: “Arrogance, over-confidence” cost Spurs in Man Utd loss

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Tottenham Hotspur suffered their first loss of the Jose Mourinho era on Wednesday — a 2-1 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford — which suddenly resurgent star Dele Alli believes was down to his side’s “arrogance” and “over-confidence.”

[ MORE: Lampard: Pulisic can reach “top level of world football” ]

Speaking after Wednesday’s game, Alli, who scored a sensational solo goal (WATCH HERE) to bring Tottenham level in the first half, revealed that he foresaw and tried to combat those destructive feelings, as well as the mindset of Man United playing at home against another of the “top-six sides” — quotes from the Guardian:

“I tried to fight exactly that state of mind. I tried to tell them exactly the way United approach these matches at home — against Liverpool [1-1 draw], against Chelsea [4-0 win], always they start strong with people running, pressing, trying to lift the morale of the supporters.

“Normally they come from bad results against smaller teams so when they face the big teams people think it’s going to be more difficult for them. It’s not more difficult for them because the style changes and they feel comfortable against this style of play.

“In the second half, we knew what we were going to do with the result at 1-1. After one minute you concede a goal. We have to blame ourselves. I think United must obviously be happy with the points, and overall they deserved it.”

Two takeaways form Alli’s comments:

1. Alli appears to have taken a much larger role in leadership within the team, taking it upon himself to “try to tell [his teammates]” what to expect and how to approach a given game. Given his red-hot form of late (four goals in four games), Alli’s confidence has clearly been restored by Mourinho’s arrival.

2. Speaking of positive feelings restored, the fact that Spurs felt “arrogant” or “over-confident” this season is news itself, the surest sign that the season can be salvaged, and an indication that three wins from Mourinho’s first three games were more than the standard “new manager bump.”

Van Dijk: Liverpool proved ‘everyone is ready’ for decisive December, January

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Liverpool will play as many as 13 more games between now and the end of January — a period which is sure to go a long way toward deciding the fate of their season, including the Premier League title — and superstar defender Virgil Van Dijk insists that Wednesday’s 5-2 thrashing of rivals Everton proved “everyone is ready” to step up and do their part.

[ MORE: Lampard: Pulisic can reach “top level of world football” ]

Manager Jurgen Klopp made five changes to the team that faced Everton, matching the number of goals his side scored. According to Van Dijk, that level of squad rotation was only a preview of what’s the come over the next eight weeks — quotes from the Guardian:

“The players who came into the team don’t play regularly at all. Look at Divock [Origi], [Xherdan] Shaqiri, they did fantastic. We played Adam [Lallana], Milly [James Milner]; everyone is contributing and we need everyone. That is the key message and it is good. The season is very long. This month is very long — January as well — so we need everyone to be ready.

“We have a big squad and everyone is part of what is going on at the moment. Everyone is happy with the situation we are in. And everyone is also feeling responsible as well, ready to play or if you are on the bench. Everyone is part of the success we have and that is the message to everyone and so far, so good.”

Liverpool’s schedule for December and January breaks down as follows: eight games in the PL, one each in the UEFA Champions League, FA Cup and EFL Cup, and up to two in the FIFA Club World Cup. The Reds’ PL fixture against West Ham United was also rescheduled due to their participation in the Club World Cup.

Through 15 games in the PL, Liverpool hold an eight-point lead on second-place Leicester City and an 11-point advantage on third-place and two-time defending champions Manchester City.

Italian newspaper condemned for “Black Friday” headline featuring Lukaku, Smalling

Photo credit: Corriere dello Sport
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Italian newspaper Corriere dello Sport has been widely condemned after printing the headline “Black Friday” on top of photos of Inter Milan forward Romelu Lukaku and Roma defender Chris Smalling, former Manchester United teammates set to face one another in Serie A action on Friday.

[ MORE: Lampard: Pulisic can reach “top level of world football” ]

The sub-headline went on to read: “Lukaku and Smalling, former teammates at Manchester United and today idols at Inter and Roma, this is the battle within the battle tomorrow with the scudetto and a Champions League place at stake.”

Both clubs were quick to put out statements condemning the newspaper’s coverage.

[ MORE: Ole gushes over “the best performance Rashford has had under me” ]

Per the Guardian, an excerpt of the article which appeared to attempt to highlight Serie A’s problem with racism, saying, “We are all trying to tackle the issue of racism in Italian football,” before making a racially insensitive statement of its own:

“In the faces of those idiots who boo, tomorrow everyone must instead go ‘oooh’ like children. It will be a Black Friday, but this is not an end-of-season sale.” It went on to describe Lukaku and Smalling as “two giants of color.”

This comes less than a week after Serie A’s 20 clubs put out a joint statement “acknowledging a serious problem with racism” in the Italian game, while providing little or no concrete plan for action to rid the game of the very racism they acknowledged.

Lukaku has scored 10 goals in 14 league games since joining Inter this summer and Smalling has become a mainstay for Roma in recent months, scoring twice and leading the defense to a much improved record of goals conceded and five victories in six games.

Orlando City tabs Pareja as new coach

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Oscar Pareja is returning to Major League Soccer for a third stint.

The former Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas coach will now be plying his trade for Orlando City SC, leading Nani and Dom Dwyer as the fourth full-time coach in six MLS seasons.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

A longtime Dallas player and assistant, Pareja led the Rapids to the playoffs in 2013 before leaving for the head job at his former club.

FCD won the Supporters’ Shield and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup under his watch before he left for Club Tijuana in 2018, where he went 23W-4D-21L.

Here’s Pareja, via OrlandoCitySC.com:

“The future of this Club is extremely bright, with so many opportunities to grow and succeed at all levels of the Club – from the new training facility to the world-class stadium and from the Development Academy all the way to the MLS side. Orlando is an incredible soccer city, with an especially passionate and dedicated fan base. I can’t wait to get started.”

Pareja should be a huge asset in developing the club’s top young talents into professionals, but he’s got a lot of work to do in building a competitive roster. Orlando finished eight points out of the playoffs in a league in which making the playoffs isn’t that difficult of a proposition.