Nations League, Return to U.S. Will Bring Things Full Circle for USMNT's Yunus Musah

Musah was eligible to represent four countries, but he'll be returning to his birth nation to officially become cap-tied to the U.S.
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As Yunus Musah make his commitment to the U.S. officially official, he'll get the chance to do something extra meaningful. 

Musah, the 18-year-old U.S. national team midfielder, was born in New York when his mother was visiting relatives, which has been well-documented by now. Save for an appearance with the England youth national team, he hasn't been back to the U.S. since, he said Wednesday, but with the upcoming Concacaf Nations League finals in Denver, Musah will return to his birth nation. And when the current U.S. camp is over, he plans on paying a visit to the Big Apple for the first time since he was a newborn.

It'll be a full-circle couple of weeks for the Valencia rising star, who was also eligible to play for England, Ghana and Italy but committed to the U.S. in March. Musah said that while Italy, where he moved after birth and lived until he was nine, never made contact with him, Ghana did, after he emerged as a first-team figure for Valencia this season. It effectively means the U.S. won a three-horse race for the dynamic midfielder's services.

"Playing for the U.S. in front of fans, that's going to be a great experience," Musah told reporters on a Wednesday conference call from Switzerland, where the U.S. is preparing for Sunday's friendly vs. the 13th-ranked Swiss. "I'm going to enjoy it so much. I haven't been back to New York since I was born. I'm going to stay there after the [Nations League] and see where I was born and try to see some places."

Musah had actually played against the U.S. on a couple of occasions while representing England on the U-17 level, doing so at the Nike International Friendlies in Florida in November 2017 and the FA's U-17 International Youth Tournament in England in October 2018. How he wound up with the USMNT is also a story that's been told at this point. To sum up: Nico Estevez, a current U.S. assistant and former coach at Valencia, was the main conduit and point person in the recruitment effort and made the connection as Musah rose through the club's ranks after his arrival from Arsenal's youth system. 

“From there, we began to communicate with Yunus and support him from afar,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said.

“I’ve had numerous conversations with him and his family, telling them about our project and how Yunus can fit in, but Nico was really instrumental in keeping the day-to-day relationship—always talking to him about the training sessions, the games and his performance.”

After appearing with the U.S. for the first time in the fall of 2020, and despite overtures from England manager Gareth Southgate, Musah declared his intentions to represent the U.S. in mid-March, before a pair of friendlies in Europe. While it was thought momentarily that appearing in a fourth friendly would have cap-tied him to the U.S. due to a change in the FIFA regulations, the prevailing ruling was that he still needed to appear in an official competition to make it ironclad. 

There's never been any reason to believe that he would go back on that verbal commitment, but it'll all be sorted in a matter of days if and when he steps onto the field in a Nations League match. The U.S. plays Honduras in the semifinals on June 3 before facing either Mexico or Costa Rica in the final or third-place game on June 6. Camp wraps with a friendly vs. Costa Rica in Utah on June 9, the last in a four-game, trans-Atlantic sequence meant to replicate the rigorous cadence of World Cup qualifying for players based in Europe.

USMNT's Yunus Musah

In Musah, the U.S. has an ideal complementary piece to Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams in a three-man midfield, and it's a trio that, form and injuries notwithstanding, could feature as a unit for the next two World Cup cycles at least. Musah is 18. McKennie and Adams are 22. Even in limited appearances, his qualities have been evident. He'll turn on a defender and push the ball up the field himself when others might defer or pass, and the value of that kind of quality, as simple as it may seem on the surface, can't be overstated. It can take a segment of possession and turn it into something more promising in an instant.

"Yunus is very dynamic,” Berhalter said after Musah issued his commitment. “When he accelerates or changes direction or sprints, you see the raw athleticism. To go along with that, he’s very skilled and we see him playing in the attacking midfield type of position. He gives us benefits on both sides of the ball—defensively we know he can close down very quickly and offensively, he’s very mobile, he can get out of problems. He’s technically very good and a player that fits really well into what we’re trying to do."

Musah made 32 appearances (17 starts) for Valencia in league play in his first season of first-team football, scoring one sensational goal. He added another score in one of his three Copa del Rey appearances, which forced extra time in Valencia's eventual first-round win.

He seemed surprised with the amount of field time he saw in his first season and reflected upon that with candor and honesty. He said he learned plenty about himself through the good moments, mistakes and losses that piled up as part of a 13th-placed finish, and that, "I'm going to look to take this information and take it to next season."

Looking forward—whether it's a proactive movement on the field, approaching his second season with Valencia's first team, sorting his international future or anticipating a few moments of tourism—is a theme when it comes to Musah. And for his new international teammates and coaches, there's plenty to look forward to when it comes to further incorporating yet another piece of the U.S.'s rising young core.

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