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SSFC Spotlight: Kik Pierie takes a detour in the Netherlands

The Dutch-American defender is on loan at Twente.

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ADO Den Haag v FC Twente - Dutch Eredivisie Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

The topic of dual nationals can be contentious in soccer circles, with the fate of entire World Cup cycles sometimes resting on the decision of a single player. United States Men’s National Team manager Gregg Berhalter is making the recruitment of these talents a priority, viewing the long-term introduction process as “part of the job description.” For the past several years, the federation has been in pursuit of Kik Pierie, a Dutch-American defender with high potential and two countries interested in his commitment. After a steady ascent to begin his young career, the 20-year-old is on loan at Twente as he attempts to regain career momentum.

Pierie was born in Boston, Massachusetts, but moved to the Netherlands at the age of one. He joined the Heerenveen academy in 2011 and made his professional debut at the age of 16, appearing twice against Utrecht in an end of season qualifying series for the next season’s Europa League. Despite a defeat in both legs, the academy player impressed management with his poise and passing accuracy.

Pierie would take over the starting role almost immediately. Heerenveen rewarded him with a multi-year contract in 2017. He would make 69 appearances from 2017 through 2019, earning acclaim and becoming one of the country’s top young prospects. His standout performances came during a five-day stretch in January of that final season, facing off twice against Ajax in the Eredivisie and the KNVB Cup.

In the first fixture, a 4-4 comeback draw, Pierie registered a goal and an assist. He was unlucky to not be credited on Heerenveen’s first goal after sliding up to win the ball and threading a pass to scorer Sam Lammers. The defender was credited for helping on the second goal, playing a simple forward pass. After mistiming his jump to meet a cross and surrendering the lead, there was a chance to become the hero. In the 90th minute, his volley off a corner leveled proceedings, earning a point for De Superfriezen against the eventual league winners and Champions League semi-finalists.

Watch the highlights of the match by clicking here.

A few days later came the quarter-final of the domestic cup, a match the incredible Ajax side would win 3-1 en route to claiming the title. Pierie started and played 90 minutes, earning plaudits for his play despite struggling with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s physicality. Marc Penrose of Total Football Analysis praised his performance, noting “great composure and passing range to bypass the press” despite “options being mostly limited throughout the game.”

A short time later, Pierie made the dream transfer to Ajax, signing in April of 2019 for a reported four million euro fee. He reportedly spurned a competing offer made by English Premier League side Southampton and interest from fellow Dutch giant PSV Eindhoven. There was a lot of hype surrounding the move, with some labeling him a potential second coming of defender Matthijs de Ligt. The then-18-year-old was full of confidence, ready to compete for a spot.

“Of course I want to play at Ajax,” said Pierie in April of 2019. “At a large club there are no guarantees, but I just go for my chance there and we will see how it goes. I wouldn’t make the move if I had to play in Jong Ajax all season. Then I might have stayed with Heerenveen…There is already a very good team, but I will try to conquer my place.”

Despite the hype, immediate stardom, let alone first-team football, did not follow. The dual national was unable to break through at the Cruyff Arena, making 22 appearances with the Jong reserve side, described as “a shadow of the defender seen in the past at Heerenveen.” The jump in quality “turned out to be bigger than anticipated.” Pierie noted the tactical difference between the two clubs, notably with Ajax’s fullbacks not “participating in the build-up” and playing “much higher” up the field.

“It was also very educational,” Pierie told Nederlandse Omroep Stichting. “I have seen things at Ajax that I have never been confronted before…While you always play at Heerenveen and are in the picture, you have to start all the way at the bottom of the ladder at Ajax. That did something to me. And if you don’t do it right once or twice, they have 33 other good players ready.”

In July, Pierie joined FC Twente on a season-long loan. After dealing with some knee injury issues, he’s claimed the starting position, playing almost every minute with The Tukkers, currently at seventh in the Eredivisie table. In advance of a recent match against his parent club, the 20-year-old shared his thoughts on the loan.

“I don’t know if [Twente] suits me better, but for this year it is the most important thing that I have playing time at the highest level,” said Pierie. “I am very happy that I can earn minutes here at the highest level. Another year of Jong Ajax would not benefit my development.”

Pierie started and played 90 minutes in a 3-1 loss to Ajax, described as in a “negative leading role,” continuing the up-and-down lack of consistency of youth. His mishit clearance led directly to the game-winning goal. The error somewhat validated criticism from the beginning of the season for awkward play, but his coach still hopes the centerback makes his loan deal permanent. While a transfer may be the best possible choice for consistent playing time, the ultimate goal remains a starring role at The Netherlands’ biggest club.

It was initially assumed that he would immediately join Ajax’s rotation after signing, the year in Twente is considered a “detour” still on the path to first-team football. Management periodically remains in contact, last speaking with the player “just before winter.” Upon his return, there will be stiff competition from Daley Blind, Perr Schuurs, and others, not including the regular upcoming crop of young talent. His contract with the club is through June of 2024, a long-term commitment that may not reach its conclusion.

That’s not to say the talented defender will fail to break through. According to Left Back Football, the Leeuwarden native thrived as a mistake limiting outlet in the Heerenveen high pressing, quick passing, up-tempo system. Transfer News Central is similarly high on the youngster, highlighting his strong tackling, defensive awareness, and long passing abilities.

Pierie possesses the versatility to play as a left back, although it isn’t his preferred position. A touch undersized at 6 feet tall, he’s struggled with aerial balls, prone to being bullied by stronger attackers, mistiming jumps, and occasionally overrun by wingers. In-between the ideal physical archetype for the two back-line positions, perhaps a return to fullback is in his future.

Once considered an emerging global prospect, much of the praise for Pierie comes from his youth. At 17, he “displayed poise and [a calm demeanor]“ which allowed him to pass through multiple lines. His creativity was viewed as an asset, earmarking him as a future star at the club and intentional level. This direct path was assumed to culminate with a senior debut for the Netherlands within “two or three years.”

Pierie is a fixture with the Dutch national team system, appearing at each successive level and captaining the U-19 side. In 2017, he started for the U-17s in every match at the European Championship, a disappointing quarterfinal finish. His last international duty for the Oranje came during the U20 Elite League, a 90 minute appearance against Poland in October of 2019.

Pierie remains open to playing for the United States but referred to himself as a “proud Dutchman,” although the former nation offers a “bigger story.” In 2018, The Athletic reported his national team future was “courted by the U.S. Soccer Federation.” He told Voetbal International that “playing for a beautiful sports country like America is fantastic.” Last year, the 20-year-old reaffirmed his free agent status as an international, believing there’s no need to make a choice yet.

“I think everyone dreams,” said Pierie. “I have a double passport, so the possibility is there. But only when I am eligible for any A-team at all do I start thinking about it.”

Nothing is guaranteed in soccer. A few years ago, Pierie was expected to coast into the Ajax first team and enjoy the subsequent international stardom. Now he’s grinding out some solid performances at Twente, dealing with the weekly struggles of a developing young player. His national team future remains open, although there is a definite preference for the Netherlands based on his ongoing representation of the Oranje at the youth level. As the years progress, a senior call-up may not come, making participation in World Cups with a willing nation a more appealing option.

The decision of a dual national can reverberate through a team, sometimes with little warning as the federation scrambles to prepare the proper paperwork in advance of a tournament. If Pierie were to change his allegiance, he would immediately be inserted into the rotation based on pedigree, experience, and potential. Whenever a decision is made, the U.S. will be waiting, ready to provide a chance to secure a role.