Americans Abroad: Barcelona's Dest Shows He Belongs in First Clásico

Sergiño Dest played every bit the part in becoming the first U.S. international to feature in the storied fixture, headlining the weekend for American talents abroad.
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With word that the U.S. men's national team will indeed be gathering for the first time since the winter in two weeks, players' club performances can once again be viewed through the lens of how they might translate to the international stage—and if they're deserving a call to that forum.

A heavy, if not exclusively, Europe-based contingent is expected to meet in the U.K. for the USA's November friendly against Wales and a potential second opponent. The players who make up the core of the group, provided they're fit, are not all that tough to spot and pick out, especially with more U.S. talents featuring for elite clubs than ever. But other merit-based calls for those standing out elsewhere will still very much be part of the picture, and perhaps there are some faces both new and old working their way into the mix for coach Gregg Berhalter given their recent form for their clubs.

Here's what stood out the most over the weekend from the American contingent playing abroad, starting with a clash between two Spanish giants and the U.S. international caught in the middle of it:

Sergino Dest defends Vinicius Junior in El Clasico

Dest fits right in for Barcelona in El Clásico

Sergiño Dest has been tossed right into the deep end at Barcelona, and so far the 19-year-old fullback is swimming quite comfortably. 

Barcelona fell to Real Madrid in Saturday's Clásico, and it's certainly not a time for silver linings at Camp Nou given what's transpired there in the last few months. Yet Dest's performance in the rivalry bout—the first time a U.S. international has ever featured in the storied fixture—was a definite positive if there was one to emerge from a home loss to Madrid.

Back playing on the right side of defense after left back Jordi Alba made his return from injury, Dest looked every bit like the player Barcelona thought it was buying to take over the spot. Never seeming awestruck by the moment, Dest did an effective job at shutting down Vinicius Junior on a side Real Madrid continually tried to attack and appeared comfortable with the ball at his feet and assured when passing it off. The numbers—43-for-46 passing, for a 93.5% completion rate—back that up. He was also aggressive in joining the attack and confident enough to dip into his bag of tricks to split Toni Kroos and Ferland Mendy (before taking a bump from Sergio Ramos) in the final third.

If there was an area of improvement for Dest, it was in his crossing, but on the whole, it was a job well done. He spoke casually after the match, saying he was "pissed" to have lost, and from a team standpoint, El Clásico was not too kind to Barcelona. From an individual standpoint, though, Dest passed his first major, high-intensity test with his new club and provided some evidence for those uncertain about whether he'd be able to cut it at a club of that stature. A second major test is just days away: Barcelona heads to Juventus for a Champions League group showdown on Wednesday.

McKennie back from coronavirus, Adams hurt again

Weston McKennie didn't play a minute for Juventus on Sunday in the club's second straight 1–1 draw in Serie A, but that he was on the bench at all is a welcome sight.

McKennie had been in isolation after testing positive for the coronavirus on Oct. 14, but he was cleared on Friday after a negative test and took his place on Andrea Pirlo's matchday squad soon after. Juventus has a couple of days to get ready for its first of two group showdowns vs. Barcelona, and while it doesn't appear that Cristiano Ronaldo will be ready for the match as he awaits his COVID-19 clearance, McKennie should be fit to play a part.

The health and fitness news isn't as rosy in Germany, where Tyler Adams was forced to miss first-place RB Leipzig's win over Hertha Berlin after suffering a knee injury (LCL) in training. Adams, who missed a significant portion of last season with injuries, had previously missed time with a minor back injury, and it was left open-ended on when he would return. "A decision on his return to training will be made in the coming week," Leipzig wrote. That makes it seem highly unlikely that he'll be available for Wednesday's Champions League match vs. Manchester United.

Quiet performances on significant stages

Gio Reyna didn't factor into the scoring in Dortmund's 3–0 win over Revierderby rival Schalke, though he was active in his 71 minutes on the field, drawing a team-high five fouls.

Christian Pulisic, meanwhile, started and came off after putting one shot on target in his 81 minutes in rainy conditions in Chelsea's 0–0 draw vs. Man United. He continues to try to find a rhythm after missing the beginning of the season through injury, featuring in a second straight scoreless draw for Chelsea following last week's Champions League opener vs. Sevilla.

Both turn their attention to midweek Russian opposition in the Champions League, with Reyna's Dortmund hosting Zenit Saint Petersburg, while Pulisic's Chelsea will head north to face Krasnodar.

Scoring in Scandinavia

A pair of American forwards are having some intriguing seasons in a lesser-heralded corner of the world.

Haji Wright, a 22-year-old U.S. youth international who came through the LA Galaxy and Schalke youth ranks, now has five goals in six games for Sonderjyske, which ties him for the league lead in Denmark's top flight. Wright, who spent last season with VVV Venlo (yes, the same team that lost 13-0 to Ajax on Saturday), has struggled to find anything resembling comfort in his young career, but perhaps his Danish odyssey is exactly what he needed. He's the top scorer for the first-place team in the league, and while it's early in the season, that's as good of a confidence-builder as one will find. The confidence surely shone through on his goal, for which he showed the strength to hold off a defender and the poise to round the goalkeeper and finish.

In Sweden, Aron Johannsson is enjoying a revival at Hammarby after a number of injury-riddled years with Werder Bremen. He scored his 10th goal in 19 league games on Sunday, a total that puts him sixth in the chase for the golden boot (and three off the pace) in the top-flight Allsvenskan. (He has another three goals in three Swedish cup competition matches.)

It's already Johannsson's most prolific scoring season since 2013–14 with AZ Alkmaar. At 29, the Icelandic American is fit and in peak form for the first time in ages, and perhaps he's working his way back into the national team discussion after all. The forward pool remains in flux and figures to skew mostly younger, but there could be room yet for an accomplished and veteran striker who is regularly putting the ball in the back of the net. Johannsson hasn't taken part in international fixtures since he was an unused substitute in the two World Cup qualifiers in November 2016 that spelled the end of Jurgen Klinsmann's time as manager. So, yeah, it's been a while.

It's not all good news out of Scandinavia on the U.S. international front. Jonathan Amon, the U.S. U-23 winger who had missed 13 months of action before returning earlier in October (and scoring the game-winning goal in his return to league play last week) for Denmark's Nordsjaelland, suffered a recurrence of a knee fracture and is out again for the foreseeable future. It's a brutal setback for a young talent who has two senior national team caps to his name.