The November friendlies against Wales and Panama could have been the biggest tease ever. They kind of felt like that at the time. It was the first time the US had called together only European-based players, which is what a lot of fans had been clamoring for. After all, who didn’t have fatigue of watching yet another attack break down thanks to Gyasi Zardes’s backhoe-like touch?
Still, a lot of the players on that squad that drew with Wales’ B-team and hammered Panama were either barely out of high school or close to it, barely playing for their club teams, or not even fully committed to the US long term. The through-line for that squad from those friendlies to say, staring down Brazil or Germany in a World Cup semifinal in 2026 in New York was fraught with peril. And that’s not even the peril that US Soccer will enforce upon it with its convoluted, inexplicable buffoonery.
It might only be a little step, but it feels bigger than that, with the news today that Yunus Musah has chosen to represent the US at an international level. Musah was eligible for England, Italy, and Ghana as well, but apparently was won over by his experience in November and the communication from US Soccer and manager Gregg Berhalter.
If you’re a USMNT fan and have spent the past six years swimming in your own misery, assuming it hasn’t just turned to complete indifference, you can’t help but think back to November. That’s when Musah lined up next to Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie in a midfield three and you thought, “Yes, I’ll have this for the next 10 years, thank you.” It is rare, and in fact unheard of, for the US to be able to simply nurture the same lineup on any spot on the field for years until everyone hits their prime. It was hard not to daydream.
Not that Musah is a guarantee of anything. He’s still only 18. Valencia have been utter garbage this season, and it doesn’t take much for a Spanish club to lose its marbles and fire a manager or two and bring in another one with a different vision. Musah also has his own growing pains to experience, and he can ask Christian Pulisic about all of that if he’d like more information.
As a player, Musah also has a lot of growing to do, as any player who just turned 18 does. Musah is really good at running around and pressuring the ball, but his offensive contributions still have a long way to go. Where Musah’s future lies on the field, either in the middle or on a wing, is still to be determined. Berhalter didn’t hesitate to play him centrally, which very well may have been part of the appeal to lead to Musah’s commitment as that’s where the player sees his future. Musah unquestionably has the skill and potential to be a midfield creator, it’s just getting from Point A to Point B. Which takes more than want-to and a smile on the largest stages of Europe.
Still, it’s impossible not to dream about Musah, McKennie, and Adams terrorizing even the best midfields of the world through sheer energy and speed. At the moment, it’s a little light on inspiration, as McKennie’s game is more about finishing and being the late runner into the penalty area than it is about creating. But that’s a concern for another time.
Musah is a player who has played regularly for one of the biggest clubs in Spain at 17. He had multiple countries chasing him for his services. Credit should go to Berhalter, who has still yet to win over a large swath of fans as he’s seen as the US Soccer company man, for showing what Musah could be in the national team set-up. While certainly Musah would have been attracted to the easier road to the starting 11 with the US than he might have found with England, he also was convinced that the US is truly building to something special. This is Berhalter’s second huge win in recent times, the first getting Serginho Dest to commit to the Stars and Stripes as well. Whatever he’s selling, young and exciting players are buying. That can only be a good thing.