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USMNT plays waiting game after Musah’s outstanding debut

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Yunus Musah was one of the most impressive performers for the U.S. Men’s Nationl team for its November friendlies, but any enthusiasm generated by his appearances is tempered somewhat by the reality that he still may not wind up representing the USMNT long-term.

Musah’s November appearances do not cap-tie him to the United States, and the New York-born midfielder remains eligible to play for multiple countries, including England, which he has represented at youth levels.

The uncertainty surrounding Musah’s international future didn’t stop USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter from giving him a second straight start in the U.S. midfield, and much as he did against Wales, Musah performed well against Panama. The 17-year-old showed the range, touch and strength that has him looking like a top starting option if he decides to play for the United States.

“I was really happy with Yunus’ performance,” Berhalter said after Monday’s win. “I’m really happy with him in camp. The guys really took to him well.”

The USMNT will be hoping Musah’s experience with the team is enough to convince him to choose to play for the United States much the same way Sergino Dest chose the USA over the Netherlands due in large part to his experiences playing for multiple youth national teams.

Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

“All I’ve ever said about players in this category is that all we want to do is create an environment for them that they want to be in, that they trust is a good environment for the development,” Berhalter said. “It seemed like that was the case for Yunus, it seems like he sees us as a as a pathway to continue to develop and play with a good young group.

“In the end, it’s going to be him and his family that decide. We’re here for him, to answer any questions, but it’s going to be him that decides.”

The England national team is another option for Musah, and while a call-up to England’s senior team has yet to come, England manager Gareth Southgate recently chimed in on Musah, stating that the Valencia midfielder is very much on England’s radar.

Musah’s star is on the rise as he has enjoyed a breakout season with Valencia, becoming a regular starter for the La Liga club. If he continues to perform well in Spain, then England could be tempted to step up its pursuit in order to lose any more ground on the United States.

Working in the USMNT’s favor is the presence of a talented generation in Musah’s age range, led by the likes of Gio Reyna, Dest, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams. It was clear that the USMNT group embraced Musah as one of their own, and while there is sure to be at least some recruiting from some circles, players know that the decision is one he will have to make on his own.

“For me, this is a really personal decision for him, so for me and the rest of the guys, we can’t say much,” Reyna said. “Of course we’d love to have him here and obviously he’d be a big part of our team moving forward. But like I said, it’s wherever he feels closest to the heart, and hopefully it’s here.

“We’ve had a good time with him, and he’s a great guy. We’ve gotten to know him. We’ll just have to see what happens next.”

The next time Musah could join the USMNT is in March, when the next FIFA window takes place, and while it remains to be seen whether or not England will step up its pursuit, the U.S. program has taken a positive first step towards trying to convince Musah to play for the country of his birth.

If the USMNT succeeds, we could be seeing Musah in the U.S. midfield for the next decade.

Comments

  1. I’m just not sold on Musah. I’ll be down here, when everyone comes off, of the Musah high. Athletic- yes!, speed & agility- yes!, starts for a Champions League team- yes! Has he played vs Mexico? No! We don’t know if he can handle Mexico’s midfield, or even Mexico’s midfield of his age. Is there a lot to like? Hell yeh!! …but it’s hard for me to be excited about a player, who has yet to show quality vs Mexico. Clearly, the US born youngsters don’t know what the rivalry is a bout, until they were in it. The future captain of the US (McKennie) got his throat grabbed, and did nothing. Do you think, a player who has no clue, about the Mexican rivalry, will understand what it takes to beat our neighbors? After 2 matches, I’m not convinced.

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    • So the exclusive measure of whether to be excited about a prospect is how they may hypothetically perform in one of perhaps two games over the next four years against Mexico in Mexico? Got it.

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      • There is nothing in my post, that said anything about how I measure a player, “exclusive” or otherwise. Mexico is the CONCACAF champions! Mexico is the country to beat in North America. If Musah, commits to the US, he will face ‘La Raza!’ When is the last time the US, beat Mexico in a match with trophy on the line? Tolvinho- you would rather have US players @ the biggest clubs in the world, but not qualify for the WC? Gotcha! Makes sense!

      • Rico – Reyna understands what it takes to play in the US/Mexico rivalry. I watched him, Kayo, Busio, Hernandez- Foster play in the U17 CONCACAF tournament (last year) and got dominated by Diego Llanez & company. Reyna & other players were brought up in US development program, (YNT). The team bombed out the tournament. The Final vs Mexico foreshadowed the US fate. He hasn’t been a winner side vs Mexico either. Musah has never played for the US, a GB gave him a “skip the line pass!” Reyna expectations are unrealistically high, but your mom & pops are former NT players, it’s expected. Is Musah’s parents former US Nat team players? Pls, keep up!

      • I understand what you are saying- just think you’ve taken it a step too far. There are certainly intangibles beyond speed, strength, skill, technique to make a great player that performs when it counts. Toughness, grit, overcoming adversity, passion… while all are extremely valuable playing Mexico at Azteca- that is not the only place to build them. Nor is knowing of, understanding the rivalry a guarantee of being able to apply the above in reality. Cheers

    • I guess it depends on how you look at him and his potential place in the pecking order of the USMNT CMs. So let me ask you which of our player pool CMs, not named McKennie or Adams, “has shown quality against Mexico’s midfield”?
      The fact of the matter is that almost No-One in our player pool has experienced playing against Mexico at the Azteca during WCQ, so we don’t know how any of them are going to react/perform.
      Hopefully Musah, Reyan, and the rest will get an opportunity to be part of the upcoming Gold Cup. A month together working up the CONCACAF food chain will allow them to grow into the rivalry without having too many excessive expectations.

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    • So you are saying Mexico’s midfield is tougher than Real Madrid midfield? I think he can hang with Mexico. The bigger question is GB smart enough to counter Mexico’s game and instruct our midfield to play to our strength.

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      • LZ- I don’t know your age, it’s not good to compare a country to club team. Tactics, jersey numbers, the time the coach & team are together is all different. Apples to oranges my friend! Example- Tecatito broke Dest ankles, when Dest played @ LB. There are no highlights of Dest getting his ankles broke in the Dutch League. Does that mean Dest sux? No, you and I know he’s at Barca. Did Dest play carry US to a victory? Mexico’s midfield is all Mexican?! Different animal. Kroos – German, Casemeiro- Brasil, Valverde-Uruguay, Ascensio/Isco- Spain, Modric-Croatia. None of the aforementioned players care about beating the US! Guardado, Dos Santos, Herrera, Alvarez, do!

      • “Exclusive measure”, “criteria”, “So your saying…”. Why do we read a post/comment and throw our own words and projections on to what someone didn’t say. I said, nothing about exclusive ways to measure a player, or gave specific criteria, or said anything about Real Madrid. I’m all for different opinions and views. I enjoy conversations. I want all the smoke, but as a whole, our reading comprehension is poor. Just remember, Adams & McKennie make everyone, who plays in front of them LOOK GOOD. I don’t think playing for the biggest clubs, in the world, but not qualifying for the WC is acceptable or fair trade off.

    • Points well taken. I read the whole thread of responses. For the record, I am USA born, and I bleed red, white and blue. My RBCs are shaped like soccer balls. Nevertheless, I grew up spending every summer in Mexico City and Cuernavaca, and lived for entire years, on several occasions in “el DF.” I have multiple uncles and cousins who played at UNAM Pumas, Club America, Necaxa, or Atlante. My nephew Pablo was raised in the UNAM Pumas academy, “Pumitas” along with Giovanni and Jonathan dos Santos, and was offered a first team contract at the same time as the dos Santos brothers. My nephew Pablo declined the offer and instead got himself a PhD and post-doc in astrophysics, black hole relativity theory, and quantum mechanics. He is also handy with a Stratocaster, and sho’ can sing. All that being said, I agree with the points raised regarding questions as to the tenacity, guile and perseverance required of USMNT players as individuals, and as a team, when confronting the likes of “el Tri” and other CONCACAF teams on their home turf. Mexican midfielders and forwards who can run with the ball at their feet, comfortably, juke and make the “little pass to the net,” with the the skills of a Pulisic, a Reyna or for that matter a Mussah are a dime a dozen. Those that have the cultural depth, mental tenacity and maturity to make it to the big leagues and play Champions league quality ball in Europe, are fewer and far between. For many CONCACAF Latin-American soccer players, the game is their life, their only ticket to a pay check, and for their entire family, the only path out of chronic poverty and misery. Thus the stakes are much, much higher than for American boys who grow up in relative cushy, and sheltered middle-class enviroments. There is more than just national pride on the line. It is their life. As well, the competitive soccer aculture, and the day-to-day of constant pick up games in school yards, public parks, improvised soccer pitches with raw timbers set up as makeshift goals, or a 50 gallon oil drum / garbage can for one goal post and a pile of rocks for the other goal post in a dusty grasless, well worn patch of park glade, etc., etc., etc., – and the moves, ball skills, and sometimes, dirty tricks that kids learn playing in such environments often way surpass anything that a formal national team training program can impart to young players coming through the USMNT pipe-line. So yes, I agree, until “the kids” i.e. Reyna, Pulisic, McKennie, Adams, Dest, Gioacchini, and/or Mussah, et al, prove themselves in environments like “el coloso de Santa Ursula, el monumental Estadio Azteca,” Tegucigalpa, or San Pedro Sula in WC qualifying, well the jury is still out. It’s nice that there are some flashes of Mancunean precision, creativity and Celt-Iberian flair on the ball in meaningless friendlies, but the proof shall be in the pudding. Overall I am hopeful. Especially because of the fierce and fighting spirit emerging from the USMNT central mid-field. Good things are coming. Good things gentlemen (and ladies). Good things.

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      • Gracias! Cheech and Chong! Latinos have an appreciation for the sport, that SOME Americans just don’t have. Everyone of my friends with Central, or South American roots can watch this sport with their great grands, or grandparents, it’s a generational thing. The US teams that were able to beat the Mexican teams (of the past), had players, who were raised with the generational love for the game. Some of those players had a decade worth of losing to Mexico. Mexican, & Mexican-Americans have a different passion, when it comes to this rivalry! My opinion, I’d rather have Reyna, Ledezma, (where Musah has been playing), Llanez, Soto, Mendez to go to battle vs Mexico, than a multi-culture player, from England, who we don’t even have a commitment. Since I’m not of the culture, I hope, I didn’t offend any Latino Americans ..or service people!!

      • Its Ok you say: “I’d rather have Reyna, Ledezma, (where Musah has been playing), Llanez, Soto, Mendez to go to battle vs Mexico, than a multi-culture player, from England, who we don’t even have a commitment.”

        I respectfully remind you that one of the toughest competitors we had in hostile CONCACAF environs was a multi-cultural player from Germany. While too many born-bred on US soil rather wilted, Jermaine Jones was likely our toughest competitor for years..

      • I think trashing Musah (who is 17) is a bit premature. He showed great skill and athleticism and his tactical acumen will improve with age.

        I get your point that international soccer can be hard if not downright vicious. (I was hit in the head by a beer bottle flung by a Mexican fan at Soldier Field after the US beat Mexico in the 2007 Gold Cup final, and baggies filled with piss thrown by fans at opposing players is a common enough occurrence.)

        The US last beat Mexico in matches that count were in the 2010 and 2014 WC qualifying games and tied them in Azteca in a 2018 WC qualifier.

        The players who scored in those games were Bradley, Donovan, and E. Johnson. Those are hardly players who “grew up with the Mexican connections you describe. OK, Bradley is a special case in that he grew up around the USMNT and pretty well understands what it takes to win in those kinds of games.

    • @ It’s Ok 2 Think — We can take the temperature down a bit here. I’m fine to do that. I will just say that if you re-read your post, you mention Mexico five times and no other reason to not be sold on Musah. So I don’t think it was unreasonable to read your post as saying the only reason you weren’t sold on him was because you didn’t know how he would perform against Mexico. That to me was an exclusive measure. And as others have pointed out, that’s a reason not to be sold on the entire team, not just Musah.

      We all want to qualify for a World Cup. But that’s going to require more than just performing against Mexico and as we proved last cycle, we still could have qualified despite performing poorly against Mexico and Costa Rica in 3 of 4 games (the 1-1 draw in Azteca being the only exception). And assuming we get there, we need to perform in the World Cup itself, against an array of opponents. So I just take a much broader view about what our needs are as a team.

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    • I’m probably one of the oldest members around here and have coached beyond HS. I think you are seeing things with your tri-color glasses. Sure, they are better than us until proven wrong as we did back in early 2000. This young midfield is special with a high upside, there is a reason why they play at big clubs.

      P.S. if you want people to take your point more seriously, don’t embellish. Tecatito didn’t break Dest’s ankles. Dest had him checked except for the nutmeg that caused the goal. And other thing, in that game there were only 4 current USA starters (Pulisic, Mckennie, Dest, and Steffen). I don’t know when we will be able to beat Mexico again but we won’t lose 3-0.

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      • Great discussion! It’sOK2think, your points make sense to me, and at this point who knows. Musah’s not been in that fire which is CONCACAF qualis, and on the road in CONCACAF, our refs, the fans, etc. But he also showed great and I’d like to see him in that fire and see who how he responds with the group, if he’s into it. At home in an attack minded setup, I’d like to see that

  2. The fact that he got his teammate’s tweeter accounts and even the USSF account shows me he seriously interested. Is not for sure, but it looks good. I feel a lot better with this kid than I did with Dest.

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  3. It is hard to know what he will do. You can argue that US college coaches face the same sort of challenge every year in every sport. They are trying to entice a teenager to commit to them and their program.

    At least the US has Musah’s interest as expressed through his accepting the call-up and he will be going back to Spain, not England where I am sure there would be more pressure (at least from the press) for him to represent England.

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  4. I think once Musah looks back at this camp over the next week or so he’ll realize the opportunity he’ll have with the USMNT. He came into a camp for the first time an gets 2 starts. It appeared that in both he had (nearly) instant chemistry with his teammates and formed a cohesive midfield trio with McKennie & Adams. If he got along with them off the field even 1/2 as well as they looked on the field you have to imagine he enjoyed the experience.
    Then he looks at his potential teammates their age and where they’re playing…McKennie – 22 (Juve), Adams – 22 (RB), Pulisic – 23 (Che),
    Reyna – 18 (BvB), Dest – 20 (Barca), Richards – 20 (BM), etc…
    This is a Young and dynamic group of players who are all getting minutes with Major clubs and are likely to be starting games w/ him for the next 10 years.
    A starting CM roll for us in the 2022 WC is going to be hard to turn down for the chance to be part of England’s team in 2026.

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  5. One thing that may give the US an advantage in luring this kid and others is the the fact that the US will be hosting the World Cup in 2026. So if a young player can establish himself on the team for 2022, there is a good chance he’ll still be around for the party in 2026.

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  6. My personal guess is he probably takes the USMNT.

    Anybody could tell this team has Top-10 potential and will be at every World Cup as reliably as England over the next three cycles…and he’s got a place on this team. He sees it, he’s played in it, it’s right there…all England can offer him is a chance to fight his way in. At the USMNT he’s got a bunch of guys right around his own age, the chance to be part of that cohort…that’s a hard, hard thing to turn away, especially because it opens MLS wide open for him once he’s done in Europe and a lot of European players want to do that now.

    He may still take England, but they also can’t offer him what we can.

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    • Your guess is as good as anybody’s really and I hope you’re right.

      I will say that the winds can shift pretty quickly. Tyler Boyd is a good example. 18 months ago he looked pretty good–not a lock, to be sure–to make the 2022 squad. But I’d be surprised if he’s able to crack our starting XI anytime soon and with the rise of Reyna, Konrad, and Llanez, not to mention Morris and Pulisic, he’ll have some serious competition to get into an 18 or 23 man squad at all.

      To be clear, Musah is not Boyd–he’s a lot better–and Boyd’s decision was and is in some ways harder than Dest’s or Musah’s: NZ isn’t as good as our team is and he would have been virtually guaranteed a starting spot on their roster. The downside though was they always have trouble making the World Cup and he faced more competition for places on the US team. By contrast, if Dest/Musah get played off the US roster, at least at this point (maybe not in a few years given our trajectory) I’d feel confident in saying they wouldn’t be playing for NED, ENG, ITA, or Ghana either. So the US is the safer pick. But that was in many ways true for Boyd when it came to NZ and he passed NZ up.

      A long way of saying that’s hard to predict what decision these guys will make. Which is why your guess is as good as anyone’s (other than Musah’s) and I hope you’re right.

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      • I don’t think Boyd expected the youth wave that is happening. He may get GC games but I doubt he will get Qualifier games.

    • World Cups are one thing, but I wonder how much regional tournaments could also factor in. If I had a choice between the US and England, I would consider that England gets to play in the Euros, which is a legitimate tournament watched around the globe. Whereas the US gets the Gold Cup and I’d be surprised if he had even heard of it prior to the US approaching him.

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      • True, Euros are certainly far more prestigious than the Gold Cup. But bottom line is these guys want to play and the competition for the Euro squad is just as fierce as it is for the WC squad. So I’m not sure that has much incremental sway over and above wanting to play in a World Cup.

  7. Our attitude on this is all wrong. He appeared for us. He is one of us. This has been the attitude under several NT coaches in a row. And we have rarely had anyone walk whether a loophole exists or not. Approaching the player explicitly with the idea that they have a decision to make is opening the door back up that you supposedly just closed. The decision is made. Welcome to the USMNT. You’re one of us. Nada mas.

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    • @TIV, we beg you to give Yunus Musah a call and use your tactics to convince, the dad of Lion King, “Mufasa” Musah, to pledge allegiance to the US.

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