Like several past and present U.S. players, Musah carries multiple passports and the ability to choose his national team: the United States (where he was born), Ghana (his parents’ homeland), Italy (where he spent much of his childhood) or England (where he was part of Arsenal’s academy).
Musah, who plays for Spanish club Valencia, has competed with English youth national teams for several years. But because he hasn’t appeared in a FIFA-sanctioned competition for the senior squad, such as the European Championship or a World Cup qualifier, he remains internationally unhitched.
The same rules apply to his U.S. status: The match Thursday was a friendly, leaving him unbound. The Americans are scheduled to play in several official competitions next year, starting in March with the Nations League semifinals.
“All we can do is hope he chooses us for the long term,” U.S. Coach Gregg Berhalter said.
“We’d very much like his future to be with us,” English counterpart Gareth Southgate said.
Several others in U.S. camp are multinational, though most are either “cap-tied” — the term to describe a player locked into one program — or have ascended through the U.S. system and intend to stay.
Sebastian Soto, a 20-year-old forward from Carlsbad, Calif., is of Chilean and Mexican descent and turned down an offer from Chile in September. Ulysses Llanez, a 19-year-old forward from Los Angeles, has spent time in Mexican youth camps but scored in his U.S. senior debut Feb. 1 against Costa Rica.
Tim Weah could also choose Liberia, France or Jamaica. His father, George, starred for the Liberian national team and is the country’s president. The 20-year-old forward was born in New York, reared in the United States and joined the U.S. youth setup in 2015.
Two rising stars, Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic (Hershey, Pa.) and Borussia Dortmund’s Giovanni Reyna (Bedford, N.Y.), have multiple eligibility but never thought of exercising it on the international scene. They had used ancestral ties to gain second passports — Pulisic’s Croatian and Reyna’s Portuguese — for the purpose of launching club careers in Europe before the age threshold of 18.
“We never once had a conversation” about representing another country, said Reyna’s father, Claudio, a former U.S. captain. “Because he is as American as they get.”
For U.S. players with stronger ties abroad, the outlook is ambiguous.
Dutch-raised defender Sergiño Dest, 20, said he did not set foot in the United States until he was 14, but because his father is American, he had options.
Four years ago, he joined the U.S. under-17 national team, and despite interest from the Netherlands senior program, he committed to the United States last year. An appearance in a Nations League match last November meant there was no turning back.
“My heart told me the U.S. was the best option for me,” the FC Barcelona newcomer told ESPNFC.com. “I had played in their youth teams, and I feel at home there.”
Jürgen Klinsmann, the German-born U.S. coach from 2011 to 2016, often turned to German Americans, such as defender John Brooks, who began with the U.S. youth program, joined a German under-20 camp, then committing to the United States. He is the only member of the 2014 U.S. World Cup roster in the current camp.
The U.S. program has lost some players, too. New Jersey’s Giuseppe Rossi chose Italy, scoring seven goals in 30 appearances for the Azzurri. For years, Mexico has had some success pursuing U.S. players of Mexican descent for youth squads.
“It’s part of international soccer,” Berhalter said. “What I’m always careful about is, I want to know the player’s connection to the United States. Do they feel it in their heart? Do they feel like they want to be part of this team? Do they feel a connection to the United States? We want to create a team that has a deep passion for representing our country.”
Making players feel welcome and creating bonds help to strengthen the chances of retaining them. In Dest’s case, former U.S. under-17 coach John Hackworth remembered the newcomer being excited to learn about American culture and team dynamics while at his initial camp in Bradenton, Fla.
In summer 2017, on a team outing to a waterfall in a Georgia state park, “he was the last player to leave,” Hackworth said. “He made my wife take 20 pictures of him. He truly enjoyed his time. Hopefully that had a big influence on him.”
Part of the U.S. appeal is the opportunity to play; it’s easier to make the U.S. roster than the French or English squad. The U.S. program’s promising outlook, fueled by several players associated with big European clubs, also has become a selling point.
“With the quality we are starting to have in our national team,” said RB Leipzig midfielder Tyler Adams, a New York native, “it’s more attractive for players to want to represent the U.S.”
In Musah’s case, the U.S. staff tracked him for a year and a half as he ascended to Valencia’s first team. It spoke at length with his family and, despite his involvement with England, extended an invitation to this camp.
“We try to sell the program,” Berhalter said. “Sometimes it doesn’t work, and sometimes you come out on the right end of it.”