By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Sep 9, 2022) US Soccer Players – 2021-22 represented a high-water mark for American players in Serie A. Thanks to an investment in young Americans by rising Serie B side Venezia and the presence of Weston McKennie at Juventus and Bryan Reynolds at Roma, there were more Americans in Italy for the 2021-22 season than any season in history. A year later, a lot has changed.
Venezia suffered relegation after putting up a fight. That wasn’t an unexpected outcome for a small, newly promoted club. Venezia midfielders Gianluca Busio and Tanner Tessmann remain in Venice, where they and new signing Andrija Novakovich are part of the effort to get Venezia up to the top level for next season.
The start to the schedule has been somewhat rough for Venezia with a single win in five matches, but hope remains strong that another promotion is possible. For Busio and Tessmann, second-division soccer in Italy holds value as a place to play and improve.
Reynolds headed north to Belgium in January in search of regular playing time. Roma loaned the former FC Dallas fullback to Kortrijk for the second half of the 2021-22 season and to Westerlo for 2022-23. While Reynolds is finding the soccer in Belgium to his liking, he could very well return to Roma in the future.
With three Americans decamped for other competitions, only Weston McKennie remained as an American in Italy’s top division until transfer deadline day arrived last week.
Fullback Sergino Dest’s move to AC Milan came down to the shifting winds of soccer at the highest level. Purchased by Barcelona two years ago for $23 million, Dest joined the Spanish giants to play for Dutchman Ronald Koeman. Koeman’s familiarity with Dest played a role in Barcelona’s interest and convinced Dest that going to Spain was the right move for his young career.
At the time of his transfer away from Ajax, Dest was linked to a host of clubs across Europe. Bayern Munich expressed serious interest, but Dest chose a club with a familiar face and deep connections to the club that developed him.
But as is so often the case with massive teams with lofty ambitions, a transition quickly came to Barcelona. The club dismissed Koeman after 15 months on the job in October 2021, leaving the players he brought to Catalonia with an uncertain future. Koeman’s replacement, Barcelona legend Xavi Hernandez, did what all new managers do. He changed things.
The changes were incremental at first, with Xavi arriving in the middle of the season and the roster already set. Dest finished the 2021-22 season with just over 1,500 minutes of field time in La Liga and a further 500 minutes in European competitions. Though the bulk of his starts came under Koeman, he was in the starting lineup in enough games under Xavi to think he still had a bright future ahead of him in Spain.
With Xavi’s first offseason on the job and Barcelona wrestling with a complicated financial situation came a change in Dest’s fortunes. It was never about whether or not Dest was good enough for Barcelona, but instead about a particular coach’s vision. Dest didn’t fit in Xavi’s plans, a tough pill for any player to swallow, but not a reflection of the player’s talent.
Dest’s abilities ensured there would be suitors for his services when Xavi made a public pronouncement that the player’s time was up in Barcelona late in the summer. Stories linking the Dest to Manchester United picked up steam through early August, stoked by the arrival of Erik Ten Haag at Old Trafford, a move that would reunite Dest with his former Ajax manager.
Dest did not dress for any of Barcelona’s games in August during the overlap between the start of the season and the summer transfer window, portending a move but leaving his status in limbo. As hot as the transfer rumor mill usually runs, it came as a surprise when on the final day of the transfer window for most European leagues, it was reigning Serie A champion AC Milan that completed a move for Dest.
Dest joined Milan on loan and, by doing so, doubled the American presence in Serie A. He also jumped to another Champions League club.
“I need to get minutes for the World Cup. I need to play. Not only for the World Cup, I just want to play always,” Dest said in an interview with Milan TV the day after arriving in Italy. “They gave me a great opportunity. So I didn’t even think twice. I was like, ‘I have to do it. I want to play.’ So it was an easy decision to make.”
Because of the late nature of the move, one Dest himself said came together on that final day, he wasn’t ready to suit up for Milan’s league match last weekend. Instead, his first chance for action as a member of the Rossoneri came on Tuesday in the Champions League group stage opener. Entering off the bench in the 57th minute against RB Salzburg, he played a solid 33 minutes in place of Davide Calabria
Dest has now played for three different teams from three different countries in the Champions League at the age of 21, an incredible achievement for a player so young.
Expectations for AC Milan are high, both in the Champions League and in Serie A. The club beat out city rival and defending champion Inter Milan for the scudetto and will likely battle with Inter and Napoli for the championship this season. Dest’s place in the depth chart will resolve in the coming months as AC Milan tries to get out on a good foot ahead of the World Cup break. The playing time Dest wanted is waiting for him in Milan.
Jason Davis is the founder of MatchFitUSA.com and the host of The United States of Soccer on SiriusXM. Contact him: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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Photo by Francesco Scaccianoce – LPS via ZUMA Wire – ISIPhotos.com