By: Cameron Meyer
A couple weeks ago, when Sergiño Dest was unveiled officially as a Barcelona player, it seemed the teenager couldn’t fathom the proceedings.
Media released by the club showed Dest wide-eyed while entering Camp Nou and stammering with excitement when prompted about the idea of playing with Lionel Messi. Couple that with him laying his jersey out while on the bench like a second grader before the first day of school – it’s safe to say he was a little awestruck.
Many USMNT fans reveled in these moments, as they should. After all, it’s not your average Thursday when a 19-year-old American signs for FC Barcelona. However, there were some doubters: those wondering whether Dest’s candid emotions were signs of inexperience and a lack of composure.
These charges were short lived though, as Dest executed a performance any Barcelona player would be proud of this past Saturday.
Against Real Madrid, Dest started at right back in the classic Barca 4-3-3. This should come as a sigh of relief for many Americans tired of seeing Noussair Mazraoui push Dest to the left side at Ajax.
Despite being in his natural position, lining up against an attacker like Vinicius Jr is daunting, especially considering Dest’s defensive woes in the past. But after watching the match, you’d hardly conclude the fullback had problems in the defensive third.
As the adage goes, Dest pocketed the Brazilian. Now this is a little bit of an exaggeration, but nonetheless, Dest still dealt with the tricky winger as well as any world class fullback could.
Dest’s defensive positioning and 1v1 defending were superb. The fullback neutralized almost anything coming from Madrid’s left flank. On the day, Vinicius wasn’t able to establish a single successful dribble and lost the ball 20 times, which is atypical for the Brazilian.
There was particularly a moment in the 38th minute that exemplified Dest’s growing 1v1 defensive ability. Alone on the left wing with Dest, Vinicius sized up the American and tried to dribble past him with a burst of speed. The fullback used his body and put himself in between the winger and the ball, ushering the ball out of play for a goal kick.
In these moments in the past, Dest would’ve gotten burned – his lackluster play in the 2019 U-20 World Cup is evidence of such. On Saturday, though, the fullback was able to successfully use his body and adjust his hips toward the defender to get leverage.
Dest also demonstrated the ability to make smart challenges, where he hasn’t at occasions previously. The American won eight successful duels, one coming from an impressive sequence in the 36th minute. Dest made a clean tackle on Casemiro in the Barcelona 18-yard-box and proceeded to block the rebound shot from Karim Benzema, saving a potential goal.
Of course, these heroics from Dest couldn’t save Barcelona from a humiliating 3-1 defeat at home. But for USMNT fans, you take small victories when you can. Although Barcelona are floundering in 12th place in the La Liga table, Americans can sleep at night knowing Dest is hardly a part of a top-down problem with the Blaugrana.
As long as he consistently puts out performances like these, there is no reason anyone should be worried about Dest falling through the cracks to the ‘American-failed-potential black hole’ (or as I like to call it, ‘getting loaned out to the Belgian league’).
Already as a teenager, he’s exhibited an incredible work ethic and a seemingly ceaseless drive to be the best and the fruits of such traits can already be witnessed. If Dest is performing like this against top-tier European club sides, one can only fathom his potential on the international stage.
Featured image courtesy of MLS Soccer.