The most surprising name on the U.S. Men’s National Team roster for November friendlies against Wales and Panama belongs to a player who had just two days earlier scored his first professional goal, doing so in La Liga at the age of 17.
Valencia teenager Yunus Musah was born in New York, but grew up in Italy and England, representing England on multiple youth national team levels. There wasn’t much reason to envision Musah considering a switch the USMNT, especially after recently breaking through at Valencia, but what wasn’t known publicly before Tuesday is that the USMNT was actively scouting and recruiting him.
“We’ve been tracking Yunus for over a year and a half now,” USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter said. “We have a good connection with Valencia. We’ve had a lot of good contact with him, spoken at length to his family. What we see from him is a player that’s hungry. He’s hungry to make his impact. He has a connection with the United States and loves the direction the team is going in. He loves the young talent that he can be alongside.”
Musah has become a regular starter for Valencia in the new season, a beneficiary of the team’s financial struggles, which led to the club selling several players and turning to academy players rather than buying new players.
Musah has started six of the team’s past eight matches, and is coming off his best match to date, which saw him score the lone goal in a 1-1 draw with Getafe on Sunday.
— LaLiga English (@LaLigaEN) November 3, 2020
Though he has operated predominantly as a right winger for Valencia, Musah youth career saw him play more as a central midfielder, which is where Berhalter sees him playing for the United States.
“With Yunus, it’s interesting because when you watch his games, he’s playing wide right in a 4-4-2,” Berhalter said. “He’s taking on the outside back and running by the outside back and he’s done a complete job defensively, but we still see him as a player that can potentially be better central. A box-to-box midfielder a little bit in the style of Weston (McKennie) in terms of covering ground, good speed.”
One of 10 uncapped players called into the USMNT camp, and one of two 17-year-olds along with Gio Reyna, Musah will have a chance to stake his claim to a prominent role in the central midfield pecking order, though Berhalter preached patience and made sure to point out how young Musah is.
“What we have to remember, and I think all of us are getting ahead of ourselves a little bit, is that he’s 17 years old,” Berhalter said. “We’re going to bring him into camp, probably centrally, and there’s going to be some growing pains, I can tell you right now, but he has so much talent that to me, it’s worth. It’s worth looking at that.
“Maybe Valencia are thinking he’s not ready to play centrally, but we’re ready for and we’re excited to see him and the impact he can make.”
Musah is currently eligible to play for England and Ghana along with the United States, but with England boasting one of the best collections of young midfield and wing talent in the international game, Musah could see the United States as offering a better opportunity for national team playing time.
The November friendlies won’t cap-tie Musah, so the camp and friendlies are more an opportunity for Musah to get a feel for the USMNT setup. It will also give Berhalter and his state a close look at the teenager, but the USMNT coach has already made it clear that he sees Musah having a bright future that made him worth actively recruiting.
“We see (Musah) as having a ton of potential,” Berhalter said. “And for us, it’s about getting him on the field with us, letting him experience how we work as a group, how we work as a staff, letting him experience the teammates and the team environment that we’re able to create.
“And then, all we can do is hope that in the end he chooses us for the long term,” Berhalter said. “He’s obviously chosen us now but there’s still a long-term implication that has yet to be decided.”