Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Yunus Musah’s increased role at Valencia is source of ‘motivation’ ahead of USMNT’s World Cup run

Valencia appear to have a stable key contributor to count on moving forward in young American Yunus Musah. At a club that has been a revolving door of managers and players under the rocky ownership of Peter Lim and in desperate search for consistency, the charismatic New York City-born midfielder is finding comfort in La Liga under new manager Gennaro Gattuso

Since the departure of Copa del Rey-winning manager Marcelino in September of 2019, Los Che have had five different managers in that span. And despite showing progress under Jose Bordalas last season by making the Copa del Rey final, he was canned in favor of Gattuso, a former World Cup winner as a player for Italy. It remains to be seen if the Italian boss will be there for the long term, but he has put a lot of trust in Musah early on this season. 

“It’s my fourth season with Valencia now. I always learn different things. I feel like they’ve really begun trusting me,” Musah said in the “LaLiga Spotlight” media roundtable prior to Monday’s 1-0 home loss to Atletico Madrid. “Gattuso really showed his character in our game against Girona. We were winning 1-0, and then [he] got a red card in the second half. He just wanted the game to end. When the referee was giving too much added time. He was passionate and angry at the same time.”

Musah went from averaging 43 minutes per game last season to now logging over 80 minutes through their first three contests, including a pair of 90-minute affairs already under his belt. His situation is quite the opposite of what other Americans like Christian Pulisic, at Chelsea, and Sergino Dest, at Barcelona, are enduring at their clubs, where both are struggling for minutes as afterthoughts somewhere between role players and completely forgotten. Dest hasn’t even been used at all this season — he’s not even making the matchday squad. Pulisic has yet to start this campaign for the Blues and has 71 minutes in four games.

Musah went the full 90 in that season-opening 1-0 win over Girona, and on the season he’s completing 88.3 percent of his passes while winning 80 percent of his tackles. While he has been a winger at times for Valencia, he’s slid into his more natural role as center midfielder this season, where he also plays for the United States men’s national team under Gregg Berhalter. With a ton of young talent around him, including Spanish international Carlos Soler, he’s looked more comfortable with each game

“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 said. 

His role figures to increase as the club has not brought in much in the middle in terms of competition. And that will be music to Berhalter’s ears, knowing the importance of getting minutes. For Musah, the minutes allow him to maintain form and fitness as he’s just months away from achieving his dream.

“I’ve had the World Cup as my screensaver for two years now. It was always my motivation,” Musah said. 

On Monday, in an early-season match against Atletico Madrid, Musah once again got the start in midfield, and narrowly missed making a crucial early-season statement when his phenomenally-struck goal was overturned by VAR thanks to a foul in the build-up in the 23rd minute.

He finished the game completing 90.5 percent of his passes, including 83.3 in the final third. He created his first chance of the season, recovered the ball three times and won 85.7 percent of his duels in a narrow 1-0 defeat. 

An August match is only an August match, even if it is against Atleti. One thing, however, is clear for the young American international — with the World Cup only months away, he’s become the rarest of USMNT breeds, an American star thriving over the long term with his club team. For Musah, the future is bright, and as his stock rises, so will the team and nation he plays for.

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