Folarin Balogun chooses USMNT over England and immediately becomes America’s top forward
The USA men’s national team has won a recruitment battle for coveted multinational striker Folarin Balogun, whose official bid to transfer his club from England to the United States was approved by FIFA on Tuesday.
Balogun, 21, is eligible to represent USMNT immediately and could debut for his native country as early as next month. US Soccer said in announcing the news that Balogun is “expected” to be part of the US squad that plays Mexico in the Nations League semifinals on June 15.
Balogun was born in New York to Nigerian parents and spent most of his childhood in England. He could therefore have played internationally for any of the three countries. He represented England in official youth competitions. As he progressed through Arsenal’s academy, he appeared destined for the England senior team as well.
But when he broke through on loan at French club Reims with 19 goals that season, a call-up for England never materialized – and US Soccer accelerated his recruitment. In March, Balogun retired from the England U-21 squad and traveled to Florida where the USMNT trained. He left without publicly committing to it, but in the weeks and months following that visit he made his decision.
On Tuesday, he announced it via social media with a video that ended with the words, “I’M COMING HOME. LET’S MAKE HISTORY.”
In an interview published by US Soccer shortly afterwards, he said he made the decision together with his family and when he told them about his final decision, his mother replied: “why did you take so long
““It feels like home here,” Balogun said of the United States. “In the end it was a matter of course.”
Folarin Balogun’s rise
Balogun, nicknamed “Flo,” was born in Brooklyn — he said his parents were visiting relatives in New York at the time — but grew up in London, where he learned the game he loved.
He started out at a local club, Aldersbrook, and played informally with friends. Then an Arsenal scout saw him at an all-day tournament and reached out to his father. This began a week-long process during which Tottenham called his father and also offered a process. And so, for a short but crazy stint, young Folarin trained at Arsenal’s academy on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays and at Tottenham the rest of the week.
He eventually settled for Arsenal and went through a highly competitive academy, first as a winger and then as a prolific centre-forward. The move to striker unleashed him. A productive season brought him his first appearances in the youth national team – with the England Under-17s – and made him a huge crowd puller in the USA. He once played for the US U18s in an unofficial tournament in the Czech Republic, but has otherwise continued to represent England.
However, US fans and coaches have followed him ever since, and increasingly so this season, his first regular season with a top-flight club. After spending the second half of last season on loan at Middlesbrough in England’s second-tier league and Arsenal’s first-team proving elusive, the Gunners sent him to Reims on loan.
He started Ligue 1 with a bang and never really let up. He has scored 19 goals to sit fifth in the league and the underlying numbers suggest Balogun’s fiery form is no coincidence. He is second among all Ligue 1 players, behind only Kylian Mbappé, in expected goals without penalties, a combined measure of shot quantity and quality. He excelled at a heavily midfield club, which means his success isn’t down to the brilliance of everyone around him.
He seemed to expect a call from the English national team. But when Gareth Southgate called up a Euro 2024 qualifying squad he wasn’t part of in March, Balogun posted a cryptic message on Instagram: “In life, go where you’re valued.”
Balogun elects the USMNT and fills an urgent position
He was called up to the England U-21 squad that month but withdrew “after reporting an injury,” England said.
A few days later that realization The fact that Balogun was apparently in Orlando in an Instagram post caused a stir about American football on Twitter. In fact, US Soccer had helped arrange aspects of a trip to the United States that included an Orlando Magic game and New York Yankees spring training.
Balogun was not training with the USMNT at the time. But he had heard the American recruitment interview. He spoke to some US players. He’s had “some conversations” with USMNT staff, confirmed interim coach Anthony Hudson.
Hudson added in a Zoom call with reporters at the time that the trip was “an opportunity for us to just talk about our program and who we are and what we do.”
It was also an opportunity to feel “all the power of the US fans,” Balogun said in a press release Tuesday. “I was there and just posted a photo with my friends thinking it was just a holiday photo. Before I knew it.” I just saw tons of comments and people knew I was in America and I really felt the love from there.
His talks with Hudson were “brief,” he said. His ties to USMNT players, including former Arsenal youth teammate and multinational compatriot Yunus Musah, were likely influential. This also applied to his American connections.
In interviews last year, he referred to London as “my city” and “if someone asks me where I’m from,” he said in November: “I’ll say I’m English.” But he also noted that he’s a “mixture “ of different cultures. He has a large family in New York and Atlanta. He has visited New York and reconnected with his birthplace, which he describes as “a special feeling”.
Even from afar, he developed strong impressions of American sport. “Growing up, I just knew in all sports that the US would dominate and win, especially the Olympics,” Balogun said in the US Soccer interview. “I would just always watch them win gold medals. So it means a lot to me that I now have the opportunity to represent her. And I just hope that I can transfer that prestige and that winning mentality to football.”
In theory, Balogun will upgrade the USMNT immediately. He will fill a position where it is necessary. He will join a side that has only scored three goals in four World Cup 2022 games. The USA have struggled to find a consistent striker since the demise of Jozy Altidore late last decade; The hope is that they found one in Balogun.
Of course, he will not become an automatic starter. Ricardo Pepi is still showing promise and Josh Sargent is still improving and other youngsters will have their say. But none have done as well as Balogun in a European ‘Big Five’ league. He’s smart, fast, and two-footed. He has all the means to be the USMNT’s top scorer for the next decade.