By James Nalton, Football Whispers
Should he make his debut for the Manchester United senior side, Matthew Olosunde would become one of the highest profile American players overnight.
“This isn't just any European team – it's Manchester United. Not everyone in America knows soccer but everyone knows Manchester United,” said one of his former youth coaches back in the states, Charlie Inverso.
The 20-year-old defender faces a tougher task than many other budding USMNT future stars we’ve covered in this series, but the reward should he complete this task is great.
Who Is Matthew Olosunde?
Olosunde was brought up in Trenton, New Jersey, but is also eligible to represent Nigeria at youth level as his father, Peter, was born in Nigeria but moved to the UK and then to the US.
In his early days in soccer, Matthew played for Princeton Football Club, and then for Inverso’s Mooch Soccer program in the winter and summer which gave chances to underprivileged children from the Trenton area.
As a youth, Olosunde and his family were so keen that he continued his education – with which he had made good progress back home – that at one point he looked ready to put soccer on the back burner while he attended Duke University.
At the time he was with New York Red Bulls, and had also participated in the Residency Program in Florida as many of the players profiled in this series have. But just as he was about to head to college, Manchester United stepped in to sign him, confirming rumours which had been circulating all summer.
They agreed to set up online courses with Oxford University as part of the deal so Olosunde could continue his education.
Many of the coach reports describe him as shy, and quiet in his youth, but you don’t get to study at Oxford University and play for Manchester United unless you are also driven to succeed.
"He’s a good player, a nice lad and a really good athlete," United youth coach Nicky Butt said.
"Hopefully, we’ll see a lot from him in the coming years because he’s someone we’re really excited about."
As with many of these young players, there is not sufficient data to truly start making a judgement on them based on stats alone, but there are some available from his games with United’s under 23 side.
He averages 3.91 interceptions per 90 minutes, which is perhaps his standout stat and shows that he has adapted to the defensive side of the game and can read the play. This would even come in handy should he move further forward in a high pressing system.
This is reinforced by his average of 5.93 ball recoveries in the opposition half.
He wins around three aerial duels per game but also averages 1.66 fouls per game – although he’s rarely booked.
On the other side of the game, Olosunde averages 5.35 successful dribbles per game with 58 per cent accuracy. To put this in perspective, if he could take this with him to senior level (admittedly a big ask), it would make him one of the best dribblers in the game.
In terms of passing he has a success rate of 82 per cent, which is good for an attacking right back.
Olosunde showed great potential from an early age, and his tall frame meant his coaches would have him playing with older age groups so he learnt soccer skills rather than just taking advantage of his physique.
These experiences also led to a versatility which remains to this day. Having started out as a forward or winger, he has moved back and now operates at left-back, as well as being able to play at centre-back or in midfield.
"He was very fast with good technique and great composure in front of goal,” said Stoyan Pumpalov who coached him at Princeton.
John Kerr, who was hoping to sign him for Duke University before the Red Devils stepped in described the player he was signing for the college.
“Matthew is a fantastic player who is comfortable playing in the back or in midfield. He has wicked pace and has incredible defensive recovery speed.
“He has great one vs one instincts on both sides of the ball and will help us right away in a number of positions.”
These skills were evident when he scored for United’s under 19s in the Dallas Cup against Real Salt Lake.
The eye test supports the stats to confirm his dribbling ability and, on top of this, he is quick off the mark and over longer distances making him a threat to opposition defenders.
Olosunde's long legs make him good in the tackle, even though his timing might occasionally need work, and when combined with his reading of the game he can use his physique to intercept passes.
He makes some good attacking runs, allowing him to get on the end of through balls into the area or near the byline. It’s no surprise that he has cited winger turned right-back Antonio Valencia as one of his role models.
“Antonio Valencia is a real inspiration. He is great at bombing forward, but also being great defensively," he's said previously.
He appeared for the USA at the 2015 Under-17 World Cup in Chile, starting at right-back in the opening game but remaining on the bench for subsequent games.
He has progressed through the age groups since, also appearing for the Under-20 side.
He made his senior debut against Bolivia on May 28, 2018, replacing Eric Lichaj late in the second half, playing 23 minutes.
He is yet to reappear in the squad, but new boss Gregg Berhalter is likely to be taking a look at his entire national team pool in the coming months, including Olosunde.
Now 20, it is important he begins to get first-team action in order to maintain his progress and step up to a level where he can become familiar with life as a senior player.
This seems unlikely to happen at United at the moment, so a loan move may be the way forward.
He was linked with a move back to New York Red Bulls last summer, and with a new Major League Soccer season coming up in March, this could be an option again.
Either way, he’s at an age where he needs to start playing. All the reports from his coaches are glowing, but to truly test himself he needs to step out from the world of youth and reserve soccer.
The United website states: “Matthew hopes to become the fifth American to make a senior appearance at United, following in the footsteps of James Brown (1932-34), Edward McIlvenny (1950-53), Tim Howard (2003-07) and Jonathon Spector (2003-06).”