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USMNT roster suffers setback as rising Ajax defender turns down call-up

Ajax's Sergiño Dest, left, dues with Lille's Boubakary Soumare during UEFA Champions League match last month. (Olaf Kraak/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

For years, Sergiño Dest played for U.S. junior national teams, and last month, the 18-year-old defender made his senior debut. But because he is a dual national, eligible for both the United States and Netherlands, Dest is keeping his options open.

So when U.S. Coach Gregg Berhalter invited him to upcoming matches in the Nations League, a competition that, if he stepped onto the field, would lock him into the U.S. program forever, Dest declined.

That decision was a clear setback to the rebuilding U.S. team, which sees Dest and other young players as key figures in the effort to qualify for the 2022 World Cup after missing out last year.

I’ve had conversations with Sergiño,” Berhalter said in a statement issued Wednesday by the U.S. Soccer Federation. “The conversations were positive, and the content of these conversations is going to remain private.”

Minus Dest, Berhalter named 26 players for the matches against Cuba on Oct. 11 at Audi Field in Washington and Canada on Oct. 15 in Toronto. One team in the three-nation group will advance to the inaugural tournament’s final stage next year.

Dest, who has an American father but was born, raised and trained in soccer in the Netherlands, is an outside back who starts for European power Ajax. Last month, Berhalter started him against Mexico in East Rutherford, N.J., but because that was a friendly and not an official FIFA competition, he remained eligible to apply for a one-time switch.

With Dest’s rise at Ajax, the Dutch federation has taken a keen interest in him playing for the national team. Coach Ronald Koeman reportedly met with the player last week.

The U.S. squad will gather next week at George Mason University for training sessions. The 26 players include a young core featuring Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic, Schalke’s Weston McKennie and Werder Bremen’s Josh Sargent and veterans such as Toronto FC’s Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore and Newcastle’s DeAndre Yedlin, who last week returned to Premier League action from a long-term groin injury.

Also back from injury is Reading defender Matt Miazga.

Players unavailable because of injury include RB Leipzig’s Tyler Adams, Wolfsburg’s John Brooks and Lille’s Tim Weah.

D.C. United’s Paul Arriola is back in the mix after skipping the September friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay for family reasons. He is among 18 players from MLS, which will conclude the regular season Sunday and start the playoffs Oct. 19-20.

The only newcomer is Philadelphia midfielder Brenden Aaronson, 18.

“We continue to bring some of the younger guys along, integrate some new players into camp, but also have a familiar base,” Berhalter said. “Most of the guys have been in camp before, understand how we want to play, and we think that continuity will help in our performance.”

U.S. roster

Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United), Sean Johnson (New York City FC), Zack Steffen (Fortuna Düsseldorf).

Defenders: Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas), Nick Lima (San Jose Earthquakes), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Daniel Lovitz (Montreal Impact), Matt Miazga (Reading), Tim Ream (Fulham), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United), Walker Zimmerman (Los Angeles FC).

Midfielders: Brenden Aaronson (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Sebastian Lletget (Los Angeles Galaxy), Weston McKennie (Schalke), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew), Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes).

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Corey Baird (Real Salt Lake), Tyler Boyd (Besiktas), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew).

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