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Thursday, September 29, 2022

USMNT midfielder Yunus Musah set for breakout World Cup

US men’s national team fans know what Yunus Musah is capable of. Indeed, the young midfielder has been an important part of Gregg Berhalter’s team for the last two years, but Musah hasn’t always carried over his impressive international form into the club game. That, however, is starting to change.

Last season at Valencia, Musah was primarily used as a wide midfielder in a 4-4-2 by Jose Bordalas. While the 19-year-old was a first team figure for the club, this particular role restricted him. Now, with Gennaro Gattuso in place as manager at Mestalla, he is being used in his preferred position in the centre of the pitch.

Gattuso’s approach has made Valencia a more energetic and dynamic team. They look to attack in moments of quick transition and need ball carriers to get forward quickly and open up space. This has been good news for Musah, whose game aligns perfectly with that of Gattuso. The pair have been good for each other.

“I’ve grown up playing in the middle. As a right winger, I always had to take the opportunity. Right now I’m playing in the middle again. I feel comfortable there…it feels natural. I’m enjoying it,” Musah explained. “It’s my fourth season with Valencia now. I always learn different things. I feel like they’ve really begun trusting me.”

The 2022 World Cup comes at a good time for Musah. He is playing with confidence and will have an opportunity to showcase his talent to a global audience for the USMNT in Qatar. He could be one of the breakout stars of the whole tournament, with his ceiling higher than that of any other player in the national team at this moment in time.

“I’ve had the World Cup as my screensaver for two years now. It was always my motivation,” Musah admitted in a recent interview. American soccer as a whole has been building for the 2022 World Cup since missing out on qualifying for the last tournament in 2017. Musah is the sort of player who could take the USMNT deep into this winter’s World Cup.

Musah is a very modern midfielder in the way he plays the game. He has the technical and physical attributes to conduct attacks from deep and break lines through his use of the ball. There is a growing trend of the best teams targeting players like this – see Jude Bellingham and Aurelien Tchouameni – and Musah fits this mould too.

There will be times at the 2022 World Cup when the USMNT have to progress the ball quickly up the pitch. Against Iran and Wales, Berhalter will surely want his team to dictate possession, but the dynamic will be different against England who will see more of the ball. Musah’s energy and directness will be key as the US attempt to create opportunities. 

Berhalter has put a lot of effort into constructing a strong midfield unit for this tournament. Tyler Adams provides protection in the deep-lying role and gives Weston McKennie and Musah the freedom to attack. The USMNT will shape the rest of their team around this structure. At just 19, Musah is already one of the most important players for his national team, and his recent performances for the US illustrated as much.

Of course, the USMNT is building for something beyond this winter’s World Cup. The United States, alongside Canada and Mexico, will host the 2026 tournament. It’s important the national team performs well at it. Everything that happens at Qatar in 2022 will be viewed through the prism of its meaning for 2026.

There is a core of US players with the potential to become superstars over the next four years. Gio Reyna is one of them, even though he continues to struggle through injury for Borussia Dortmund, while Weston McKennie is still a consistent performer for Juventus. Adams and Brenden Aaronson could also rise further following their summer switch to Leeds United. Fronting all of this depth, of course, is Christian Pulisic, who himself is struggling for minutes at Chelsea.

However, no USMNT player is on as steep an upward trajectory as Musah is right now. Valencia fans are now much more aware of the teenager’s qualities after an impressive start to the season. Fans from around the world could have a similar introduction to Musah at the 2022 World Cup. 

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