PANAMA CITY, Panama – Yunus Musah traveled to New York in June with his teammate Tim Weah and had a wide-open view of the big city.
“I remember going to – what is it called – that tall building?” Musah said with a small laugh.
It’s the Empire State Building, he was asked.
“The sight from there was crazy,” Musah said. “I could see all of New York.”
Musah is in the shadow of various tall buildings this weekend, the skyscrapers of Panama City.
Ahead of Sunday night’s World Cup qualifier against Panama, on the fourth anniversary of America’s infamous loss to Trinidad, the 13th-ranked U.S. team leads the eight-nation final round at the goal difference against Mexico. Panama, number 68, are three points behind after a 1-0 loss on muddy ground in El Salvador.
Musah was born in the Bronx on November 29, 2002, when his mother Amina was from Ghana and lived with his brother Razak. He grew up in Castelfranco, Italy, before the family moved to London, where he joined the Arsenal youth system.
Musah was part of England’s national youth teams and signed with Valencia ahead of the 2019-20 season. He made his debut on September 13 against Levante at the age of 17, and on November 1 against Getafe became the club’s youngest non-Spanish goalscorer.
Despite being selected for England’s roster at the 2019 European Under-17 Championship, he has not made any of the squad’s three matches. In the run-up to this tournament, England traveled to the Nike International Friendlies in Lakewood Ranch, Fla. In October and November 2018, and they have twice faced an American team including George Bello and Gianluca Busio, who now play part of the national team, and Joe Scally, likely to be called up soon.
Nico Estévez, an assistant to Gregg Berhalter who followed his Columbus boss to the national team, had spent eight years at Valencia and was told Musah had a US passport by Valencia youth coach Rubén Mora.
“I really liked his dribbling, his technical and physical ability to break lines,” said Estévez. “Also, his understanding of when to pass the ball, to be a connector and his physique to cover the court defensively.”
Estévez contacted Musah to express US interest.
“I was really surprised. I wasn’t expecting it,” Musah recalled on Saturday. “It was a great moment. It opened my eyes.”
Estévez began to help Musah, analyzing the video and giving advice. Berhalter spoke with Musah and the family.
“It was a lot of conversation about what this young group could do and the potential of this young team, the players we had in the pool, how we saw them fit into our team, talking about America. and what we want to do as a group, ”said Berhalter.
Musah made his US debut on November 12 at an exhibition in Wales. Four days later, in a friendly against Panama, he became the first American to start multiple matches before his 18th birthday.
“I felt like the manager really wanted me to be here, to be part of this group, to be part of his plans,” Musah said. “And it makes me feel a little bit special.”
Musah made a long-term commitment to the United States in March and finished with 32 La Liga appearances last season. He was part of the US roster for the CONCACAF Nations League final four in Denver in June, but has not appeared in any of the games.
“He was not playing regularly for his club,” Berhalter said. “We didn’t feel like it was the right time.”
Musah missed the first three World Cup qualifiers in September. Returning this week, he was anxiously awaiting the qualifying game against Jamaica in Austin, Texas, then received an inconclusive COVID test Wednesday morning to get a negative PCR result at dinner time.
“It was really boring, but I’m glad it was a quick process and they realized there was nothing,” Musah said.
While Valence uses Musah as a winger, Berhalter positions him in the center.
“In midfield the game is like 360,” Musah said. “Sometimes I feel like it’s hard to adjust, you have to really check your environment in midfield a lot.”
He made his first competitive start against the Reggae Boyz and was the central figure in a 15-second end-to-end move that led to the opening goal of a 2-0 victory. Goalkeeper Matt Turner passed the ball to Sergiño Dest, who passed to Musah. He took five touches in a 25-yard run and returned the ball to Dest, whose cross was directed by Ricardo Pepi.
“Yunus, you give him the ball, he runs 20, 30 yards, wants to have the ball at his feet,” midfielder Kellyn Acosta said.
Musah has a quick laugh and speaks English, Italian, Spanish and Hausa, a language of Ghana. He gives the United States a creative weapon alongside Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie.
“It’s tough, man, when you’ve got someone dribbling over you, who’s also agile and mobile and keeps the ball so close,” Berhalter said.
Weah said Musah toured New York City on his own to soak up the atmosphere.
“Seeing that he wants to connect a lot more with his American culture is great for him,” Weah said, “and that’s great for us.”
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