United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) manager Gregg Berhalter has defended his decision to start Sergiño Dest at left-back during a 0-0 draw with El Salvador on Thursday.
After failing to make Russia 2018, the USMNT began their campaign to qualify for next year’s World Cup away at the Estadio Cuscatlán in San Salvador.
But anyone thinking it would be a walk in the park were sorely mistaken as the US were limited to just a few big chances by the hosts.
One particular area of frustration was at left-back, where Dest was deployed on his weaker foot. The Barcelona man lost possession 15 times on the night, continually running into dead ends and playing errant passes. What’s more, Dest was also dribbled past three times and was given the runaround by El Salvador’s right flank. In short, he never looked comfortable with the position – at all.
There are now calls for Atlanta United youngster George Bello or Fulham‘s Antonee Robinson to be brought in at their natural left-back position in the United States’ next game against Canada on Sunday. Bello put in a solid performance as the USMNT beat Mexico 1-0 in last month’s Gold Cup final, while Robinson started the Nations League semi-final win over Honduras in June and was on the bench for the final.
But, speaking to reporters after the match, Berhalter defended his decision to start Dest in that role, one he has played for club and country before.
“We’ll review his performance and talk to him about his evaluation, but we know he’s a quality player,” Berhalter said (via Goal).”We know, from the left, he can come inside, start to combine, start to switch.
“We thought our switching of the field was going to be important and we have a right-footer on the left side, so when he comes inside, he can easily switch field. We thought that was going to be a benefit.
“For him, it’s just a learning experience as well. As a young player that plays in Barcelona now, they don’t get too many environments like that with those clubs, so, for him, it’s just about learning. We have a lot of confidence in Sergiño. He’s a top player, and it’s just the learning curve to now perform in World Cup qualifiers.”
To seasoned USMNT supporters, the struggle down in El Salvador will come as no surprise, with a 0-0 draw not the worst possible result. The Concacaf region is notorious for hostile atmospheres and tough away days. Berhalter was keen to point out the ‘dog-fight’ nature of games like these after the final whistle.
“All these games are going to be hard-fought,” Berhalter said. “Anytime you go away from home, it’s going to be a difficult game. Any intentions of us coming here and winning 3-0, it’s going to be really challenging. Look at the other scores around CONCACAF, all the ties, Mexico winning in the 90th minute at home.
“They’re dogfights and as much as I’d want to win this game, and we did want to win this game, I think that the attitude and the play was trying to win the game for the whole 90 minutes.
“We’ll take the point and we’ll move on. We know the next game is a home game against Canada followed by Honduras and we want to pick up points in those games.”