Yunus Musah’s commitment to the United States national team isn’t just the biggest win of the Gregg Berhalter area – on or off the field. It is a signal of what could be trending for the Americans inside the national team.
And, it is represents a crucial moment for Efrain Alvarez as his international fate hangs in the balance. There is a culture shift going on here and Berhalter, much criticized at hire, is leading the way ahead of March friendlies in Europe.
Young Alvarez, brimming with potential and adorned in the green, white and red of Mexico, is likely to take note.
In Musah, the United States got a huge boon for their international fortune. At 18 years old, Musah is already a regular for Valencia, a club with legitimate continental aspirations. He showed in two appearances with the national team in November that he has class, even as a teenager, to dictate play at the international level.
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His play for club and the United States in recent months has led to England, the country where Musah spent his formative years, actively recruiting the young player. For sure England, despite being talent-laden, always manages to disappoint at the international level in recent years.
Nevertheless, it is still the birthplace of the sport. It is still England.
When England calls, players around the globe listen. That Musah still chose the United States is a clear statement of the message that Berhalter is selling and this young group of Americans is clearly buying.
Here in this moment is what could and should resonate for Alvarez, an 18-year-old attacking midfielder for the LA Galaxy. Alvarez faces a similar situation, on paper, with Musah. Both Mexico and the United States want Alvarez, who was born in Los Angeles and raised the entirety of his youth in California.
Through his parents, Alvarez has deep emotional roots with Mexico that cannot (and should not) be denied and he played his youth international ball with El Tri. He certainly can not be blamed should he choose to play with Mexico, a nation that has actively recruited him.
Yet in the here and now, Alvarez can see a path emerging that may not include representing Mexico. It will be his decision, surely, but one made a bit more complicated when a player like Musah pledges his future with the Americans.
In the commitment of Musah, there is a signaling and shift of the perception of the United States on the international level. While the United States has convinced dual nationals to represent the red, white and blue before, never before has the national team won a tussle in quite this way.
And with the United States identifying Musah early, they wrestled away a top young player away from the possibility of playing for a blue blood in England. And not just England, but Musah was also eligible to suit-up for Italy as well as Ghana.
When the United States won the commitment in recent years of a Timothy Chandler or a Fabian Johnson or a John Anthony Brooks, the possibility of playing time for this trio with the German national team was limited at best. None of the three were considered first choice options for the nation of their birth. Choosing the United States was their best collective option to play in a World Cup and at the international level.
Musah, however, is a regular and a consistent starter for a club team routinely in European competition, his performances this season a revelation and earning the attention of England as well as the United States. This is a player who, as a teenager, could conceivably see playing time for an England side that made waves three years ago in Russia at the World Cup.
Yet, instead of chasing the glamour, Musah took the risk associated with a national team that faced disgrace following the failure to qualify for the last World Cup.
"Here is where Alvarez should at the very least consider following a similar path in what surely must be one of the most difficult decisions of his young life."
While Alvarez is not nearly as established at the club level as say Musah, he is nonetheless beginning to emerge as a regular with a club that has a long and storied track record in MLS. Having earned the praise of former teammate Zlatan Ibrahimović, there is no denying his talent.
Ibrahimovic, of course, tabbed the player as the best young talent in MLS.
Alvarez has an ability on the ball that would make him a potential star with the United States. He has vision not typical of an 18-year-old and a silky smooth way on the ball that could transform a sometimes bland American side into a dangerous unit in the final third.
Certainly, while this is all potential speaking, there is no denying that the United States doesn’t want to follow the route of Jonathan Gonzalez, who, after playing for the United States at the youth level, flipped to Mexico after a heavy recruitment pitch from El Tri.
Alvarez, conversely, has never represented the United States outside of a recent training stint with the Americans ahead of a recent friendly (and he didn’t play for the senior team, only trained). Yet this is where the pathway established by Musah is necessary in the recruitment of the talented Alvarez.
To put together the type of roster that can again get the United States back into the World Cup and advancing to the knockout rounds, the first meaningful victories of the Berhalter era need to be with these dual nationals.
For a myriad of reasons, ranging from long-standing ties with the Mexican federation to financial opportunities, Alvarez may pick against the United States. But in Musah, there is reason to hope.
Musah chose the United States for a list of reasons, ranging from a connection with his national teammates to the chance to play at multiple World Cups. It represents a risk from Musah to link his international future with the young, promising but unproven Americans.
This decision from Musah, however, paves the pathway for Alvarez to pursue a future in the red, white and blue. Something is beginning to simmer for the United States, something that the potential-laden Galaxy midfielder might want himself to latch onto.
Make no mistake about it, Musah’s Monday commitment is only the tip of the iceberg as it comes to dual nationals.