Dest, 19, joined Barca from Ajax Amsterdam for €26 million earlier this month in a move that adds to the optimism surrounding the emerging generation of talent from the U.S.
There have never been more Americans spread across Europe’s biggest clubs, with 10 registered for this season’s Champions League, including Dest, Chelsea‘s Christian Pulisic, Borussia Dortmund‘s Giovanni Reyna and Juventus‘ Weston McKennie.
After failing to qualify for the last World Cup, there’s an excitement around the USMNT again and Dest says the players are desperate to achieve something.
“I feel [the excitement], everybody feels it,” he said in a news conference on Monday. “I think because we have more players that play for big clubs, that’s why everyone is excited that we can really achieve something in the upcoming World Cups.
“Everyone has to keep motivated and keep hungry because I feel like we can do it. If we just work hard and as a team, everything can be achieved.”
The USMNT’s first goal is to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar in 2022, but it’s on home soil in 2026 when this generation may have their best chance of success.
The likes of Dest, Pulisic, Reyna and McKennie will still be in their prime, while other young talents will have had time to develop. Dest also references Konrad de la Fuente, his roommate at the U20 World Cup two years ago and now teammate at Barcelona.
“There’s a great possibility that we can do something great at the 2026 World Cup,” Dest added. “We also have a lot of talent in the youth [teams].
“Everybody is hungry, everyone wants to achieve something with the U.S. That’s a good sign. We all want to win a World Cup, achieve great things, not only personally, but also as a team for the U.S.
“I feel like because we haven’t achieved really big things yet with the U.S, I think everybody wants to be the first one. That’s why everybody is so motivated to develop themselves and to win the first big trophy for the country.
“We all have to stay concentrated, though, because if you’re playing at a big club and think you’ve already made it, we can’t achieve anything.”
Dest, who has three caps for the USMNT after turning down the chance to play for the Netherlands, speaks particularly fondly of coach Gregg Berhalter, who he says he’s been in regular contact.
Dest has not been in action with the U.S. since November, although the squad hasn’t played a match since a Feb. 1 friendly against Costa Rica that mainly featured domestic-based players.
He says Berhalter is “busy with us [the players], he has a plan for us, a philosophy for all the players and for the national team to reach something great at that tournament [in 2026].”
The buzz around being the first USMNT player to represent Barca has brought great expectations but Dest says he can handle the pressure.
“I don’t feel pressure in a bad way, but in a good way,” he said. “I am the first American to be in the Barca team, so I am really proud of that.
“But I don’t only want to be the first one, I want to do something great at this club as well. I will work hard for this. I want to achieve big things in this club.”
Dest is already learning Spanish and is enjoying the level of training at his new club and life in a new city. He is also relishing the chance to play alongside Lionel Messi, a player he says he watched repetitively on YouTube growing up and who he rates as the best in the world.
There were some, though, who felt his development would have been served best by staying at Ajax in the Dutch league for one more season.
“I like challenges,” he says of that suggestion. “I will develop at this club because I will see what I have to improve the most. It’s a big challenge but that’s what motivates me, playing with the best in the world. It’s something I really wanted and dreamed about.
“I think I should take the chance to learn from these players, the best in the world is here, Messi, and I can learn from them. I feel like if you’re in Spain, it’s easier to learn Spanish. So if I am with the best players, it’s easier to develop.”