Sergino Dest celebrates his goal with teammates. (Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Left foot, right foot.
Left side, right side.
It doesn’t matter to Sergino Dest.
He can score with either foot and from both sides of the field.
In a 4-1 friendly win over Jamaica March 21, the U.S. men’s national team defender smashed a spectacular 26-yard blast for a goal with his right foot from the left side. It was his first international goal.
On Wednesday night, he used his left foot from the right side, just on the edge of the penalty area in the Americans’ 2-1 World Cup qualifying win over Costa Rica in Columbus, Ohio. It was his first qualifying goal.
The USA needed that goal for so many reasons.
It snapped a 428-minute scoreless streak in first halves of games over eight matches.
It also got the USMNT back into the match, tying the Ticos at 1-1 in the 25th minute.
“It really gave us a boost,” said forward Tim Weah, who wound up in the middle of the second goal, which was ruled an own goal. Oh yeah, Dest, named man of the match, set up that one as well.
The ball was floated in from the left flank to Yunus Musah. Dest, who had penetrated into the penalty area, jogged to edge of it. Musah sent a short pass to hit and he switched the ball from his right to left foot and rifled a shot into the upper left corner beyond the reach of goalkeeper Keylor Navas.
Dest, who plays for Barcelona, admitted he didn’t think too much.
“I never really think what I’m going do before that moment,” said Dest, who admitted he had loose shoe laces on the goal because he did not have time to tighten them in the locker room. “I just got it inside. The only thing I could do at the moment was just shoot it because we had to score. We needed this point.
“It’s an amazing feeling because it’s, it’s a really important goal.
“Once we got that, we knew we’re back in the game and we’d have to get that second one.”
Given his natural talent and attacking abilities, Dest can be a pest to the opposition.
But sometimes his lack of defense can be a liability for the USMNT.
“Sergio is an interesting player because it’s almost like the sky’s the limit for him,” head coach Gregg Berhalter said. “He could be as good as he wants to be. You saw today with his attacking play. It’s unreal with him and Yunus [Musah] on the side together, and Brenden [Aaronson]. It’s very difficult to deal with for the opponent.
“Serge is just hanging in there. Mentally, he’s really pushing himself to the best when he’s on the field. I think we’re forgetting how young of a player he is. Defenders rely on experience, and he just needs to gain experience. He’s doing a great job. He’s played over 60 games for Barcelona. It’s a really impressive record and he just needs to keep working.”
Dest, who turns 21 Nov. 3, was one of the youngest players on a Starting XI Wednesday that averaged around 22 years, 199 days. That was the youngest contingent to start a qualifier for the USA.
“I don’t feel like I really have something to prove, but we have a really young team,” he said. “We all have talent, really upcoming talents. We all work together. That’s the most important [thing]. We all get more experience, because these games are tough. That’s different than we used to play against. We’re not used to play against like these opponents.”
Dest and his young teammates have been on a steep learning curve during the Concacaf Octagonal. Those opponents from Central America and the Caribbean play a different brand of soccer than many of the European teams. And because so much is at stake – a berth in Qatar in 2022 – games can get quite physical.
So, when the September window certainly was an eye opener for Dest and company. He noted the USA earned five points last month and six in October.
“I feel like we can win even more games,” he said. “We should because it’s really important. We all want to compete in the 2022 World Cup. So, I think it was an eye opener for all of us because for me it was the first time for some of the guys. This window we got one more point. So we’re making improvements but we still have a long way to go.”