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El Salvador v United States

Berhalter backs Dest as young USMNT look to learn from CONCACAF 'dogfight'

3:05 AM EDT 9/3/21
Dest El Salvador USMNT 2021
The United States manager explained his decision to start the defender on the left in what proved a difficult game in El Salvador

Gregg Berhalter backed Sergino Dest after a difficult game as the Barcelona star struggled in what was his first World Cup qualifying experience.

Played as an inverted left-back on Thursday night, Dest was unable to truly get going in the attack in a 0-0 draw with El Salvador.

Dest lasted 64 minutes before being replaced by Antonee Robinson, but Berhalter says he is going to work with the Barcelona star to figure out a way to get the best out of him in the games to come.

Dest's learning curve

The 20-year-old fullback became the latest European-based star to struggle on the road in CONCACAF, which has notoriously proven treacherous for some of the region's most talented players.

Playing out of his usual club position on the left side, Dest's tricky dribbling was never enough to kickstart an attack and his difficulties in defence left the U.S. exposed a few times.

Berhalter opted to play DeAndre Yedlin at right-back instead, pointing to Yedlin's CONCACAF experience, and says Dest will have learned a lot from a difficult game.

"We'll review his performance and talk to him about his evaluation, but we know he's a quality player," Berhalter said ."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 Sergino. He's a top player, and it's just the learning curve to now perform in World Cup qualifiers."

Dest will likely be a key player for the USMNT's next match as he could go head-to-head with Alphonso Davies when the U.S. take on Canada.

Questions remain up top

Berhalter opted to start Josh Sargent in the U.S. attack, with Konrad de la Fuente and Gio Reyna on either side of the Norwich forward.

Sargent was dangerous in stretches of Thursday's game, making some good runs but failing to truly create danger often enough.

He was replaced by Jordan Pefok in the second half as the battle for the USMNT No 9 spot rages on.

"I think he had a good start to the game," Berhalter said. "A couple of good runs behind the backline, was in the penalty box, was occupying space in the penalty box, almost got an end of a couple crosses, had a couple of good transition moments, I thought, in both halves of the game.

"Unfortunately, he didn't get the goal and Jordan came on. You can see he's really dangerous in crossing, was good holding the ball up. It's that speed of play to continue to, as it comes into him, to keep the ball moving to the other side of the field and then into the penalty box.

"Both of them, we would have liked to see them scoring goals and we had to look at the chances that they had and evaluate those but you know I thought it was an okay performance."

Learning from a dogfight

Featuring a team that saw 12 players make their World Cup qualifying debut, Berhalter said that Thursday's match would be a real learning moment for the young U.S. team.

Up next is a match against Canada on Sunday in Nashville before the U.S. heads to Honduras next week where they will look to apply the lessons learned on Thursday.

"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."

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