Coach Gregg Berhalter and the U.S. national team earned their first big win of a big year on Monday morning as 18-year-old Valencia midfielder Yunus Musah, who’s eligible to represent four countries internationally, chose to commit to the U.S.
Born in New York City and raised in Italy and England, Musah is expected to be named to the team that’ll face Northern Ireland and Jamaica in friendlies this month.
“I think it was pretty clear for me to decide to play for the United States,” said Musah, who was also eligible to represent Ghana. “First of all, I think it makes sense to represent the country I was born in. The moment I decided to play for the United States came one day when my heart told me that this was the best place for me. The project that we have now and for the future is so exciting, and it’s a great pleasure to be able to be a part of that. I can’t wait to get started.”
Musah joined Arsenal’s academy as a nine-year-old and represented England more than 30 times at multiple youth levels. He even captained the U-18 national team. After moving to Valencia in the summer of 2019, he was brought to the attention of U.S. assistant coach Nico Estevez, who had spent time at the Spanish club as an academy coach. Berhalter and his staff established a connection with Musah, and last November he was brought in for friendlies against Wales and Panama. He started both games and meshed well with Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams.
“Yunus is an exceptional talent. For his age, it’s impressive what he can do,” Berhalter said Monday. “When the group first met him, we were immediately drawn to his personality and what a great person he is. When you see him play, you realize there is a ton of talent as well. We’re really excited, because not only is Yunus a player for today, he’s a player for the future.”
Pursuing dual- or multinationals is a part of life as a national team coach, especially in the U.S. Berhalter has embraced and attacked that part of the job, and his efforts have secured two potential cornerstone players, Musah and 20-year-old outside back Sergiño Dest. Not every player will choose the U.S.—it was reported over the weekend that LA Galaxy midfielder Efraín Alvarez is leaning toward Mexico—but Musah very well could become a midfield linchpin over the next decade. He’s a significant addition.
“It comes down to the environment we want to create. I think that will kind of sell itself,” Berhalter said shortly after calling up Musah in November. “And the other thing is the players that we have are attracting a lot of attention worldwide, so when you speak to Yunus or Sebastian Soto or other players, these guys that are doing these things across the world in soccer are known, and they’re very familiar with these guys.
“What we see from him is a player that’s hungry. He’s hungry to make his impact,” Berhalter continued. “He has a connection with the United States. He loves the direction the team is going in. He loves the young talent that he can be alongside, and we see him as having a ton of potential 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.”
Musah did, and now brings his technique, speed and power to a midfield already brimming with young talent and potential. He said Monday that he already senses the excitement.
“The U.S. supporters have been really warm and made me feel wanted and appreciated,” Musah said. “It’s exciting with such a young squad. It’s nice to compete against so many great players for spots. It’s exciting to see what we can do together. I’m sure we’re going to be able to do great things.”
Musah was a regular starter for Valencia until mid-December but has been a reserve more frequently in 2021. He's made 27 total appearances this season for Valencia, which sits 12th in La Liga. He has two goals. In December, he signed an extension with the club through 2026.
Berhalter is expected to name his roster for the Northern Ireland and Jamaica games Wednesday.