Yunus_musah_-_asn_top_-_isi_-_vs_wales_-_11-12-20_-_back_of_jersey_-_john_dorton John Dorton/ISI Photos
USMNT analysis

Analysis of Musah's decision to commit to the U.S. national team

Yunush Musah has announced his commitment to the United States national team moving forward and it was a signfiicant win for Gregg Berhalter, Brian McBride and his staff. ASN's Brian Sciaretta is here to offer up his thoughts. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
March 15, 2021
2:00 PM

ON MONDAY MORNING, U.S. Soccer dropped the significant news that Yunus Musah had decided to commit to the United States national team in the future despite having grown up in England and having played for English youth national teams for years. Last November, U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter convinced Musah to join the U.S. team for a pair of friendlies and four months later, the teenager had decided to commit permanently.

Musah, 18, a midfielder for Valencia in La Liga was born in New York City but left when he was a young child. After leaving the U.S., he was raised in Italy and then England. He played for Arsenal’s academy but then opted to begin his professional career in Valencia.

The 2020/21 season is his first full season as a first-team professional. It hasn’t been a smooth path but at times he has shown some glimpses of being an extraordinary talent. Other times, like recent weeks, he has struggled to play much on the field. But at 18 and in a condensed schedule, this is somewhat to be expected.

It’s impossible to know how Musah will develop and mature as player but at age 18, he is a top-level talent.

This is the second major dual national recruiting win for Gregg Berhalter, Brian McBride, and the rest of the leadership of the men’s program. Sergino Dest was the other major recruit but Musah’s recruitment was possibly harder. Yes, at the time Dest announced his commitment, he was a more accomplished club player than Musah having locked down the Ajax starting spot but he also had a very strong relationship with U.S. Soccer stemming from being part of the 2017 U.S. U-17 World Cup team and the 2019 U-20 World Cup team.

In this commitment, Musah was never ignored by England and was a consistent presence on their youth teams. His two friendly caps in November were extremely limited compared with Dest’s history with U.S. Soccer. Dest opted to stay with the United States while Musah left England for the U.S. team. There is the argument that he saw a tough road ahead of himself to play for England, but many other players might have opted to stay with the English program for a bit longer at the youth levels. The U.S. made a strong enough case to switch now.

There have been other dual national’s joining recently as well. Andres Perea leaving Colombia’s set up to play for the U.S. U-23 team, Johnny Cardoso was rumored to have turned down Brazil U-20 call-ups to pursue the U.S. team. All of these are important and Musah fits the pattern.

Here are my thoughts on Musah’s commitment.


Big addition in the numbers game


The U.S. player pool has been getting stronger the past two years at a steady rate. This has been primarily due to a combination of a generation of kids that likes the sport more than any other American generation, can watch the sport on television and in-person, and has access to better coaching and domestic teams to hone their skills at younger and younger age.

The result is that the American player is just better now. The American stars in Europe are better and the American players domestically are better. The tide has increased.

On the flip side, it is still a very young player pool for the U.S. team and most players in the pool are ages 22 and younger. While things look promising, focusing in on any one or two players at these ages is unreliable. The form of players ranges up and down quickly for teens and players in their early 20s.

On the other hand, the more talented players you have at these ages in the pool, the higher the odds that someone in the pool will be healthy and playing well. 

The current state of the player pool actually reflects this. Players like Gio Reyna, Christian Pulisic, and even Musah himself have hit rough patches since December. The more the player pool expands, the less problematic it becomes for the U.S. team. If Reyna or Musah aren’t playing well, Brenden Aaronson might playing well and can pick up the level.  Then if Aaronson hits a point where he’s not playing well, at that time the odds Musah or Reyna will be back to playing well – and there will continue to be more players emerging (Caden Clark, Cameron Harper, etc), developing, or returning from injury like Richard Ledezma.

The U.S. national team right now isn’t a starting 11 or 23-player roster. It is probably 50 or more players that are all part of a system. Musah is a big addition to that and he helps makes the U.S. less reliant on Reyna, McKennie and others everyone was counting on so much in 2020. He is a high level player that increases the probability that higher-level talent will be in-form at all times. 


Talent begets Talent


Why did Musah make this choice? This is not to discount obvious – that the U.S. team is easier to make than England and that playing in a World Cup in 2022 is more likely with this decision. It’s also not to discount the enormous hard work done by Gregg Berhalter and others at U.S. Soccer who did an outstanding job bringing Musah into the fold - but their job was made possible because of existing talent.

Musah is a high-level talent but he’s not going to alter the course of the U.S. program. The U.S. program was improving and would have continued to improve without him. Musah is the reward for having an improved program.

The American soccer infrastructure had nothing to do with Musah’s development as a player but by virtue of producing players like Adams, Pulisic, McKennie, Reyna, Sargent and others, it made it easier to bring Musah into the fold.

Talent begets talent and Musah is a reflection of that.


Tactical versatility


As far as on the field, Musah will likely start in a central attacking midfield position – as he did in November. He plays wide on the right side with Valencia but prefers the middle, where the U.S. team plays him.

On a full-strength team right now, he probably plays in a midfield with Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams with Reyna and Christian Pulisic out wide. But if there are injuries or continued dips in form, Musah can shift out wide where he is now.

Musah is a starter right now but the good thing is that competition from within the player pool should push him – and bring out the best in him as well.

Post a comment