Copa América
Did Folarin Balogun do enough to keep his starting job with the USMNT?
Copa América

Did Folarin Balogun do enough to keep his starting job with the USMNT?

Published Jun. 23, 2024 10:36 p.m. ET

Gregg Berhalter opted to reinsert Folarin Balogun in the starting lineup for the United States men's national team's opening matchup in Copa América group play against Bolivia on Sunday. Balogun rewarded Berhalter for that decision.

The 22-year-old forward added the second goal in the United States' 2-0 win over Bolivia, helping it pick up three points to lead Group C. Balogun's goal came in the 44th minute, finding the back of the net on a left-footed shot off a pass from Christian Pulisic.

United States vs. Bolivia Highlights

Balogun's goal wasn't only a much-needed one for USMNT, but it got him off the schneid, too. He hadn't scored for the international team since last October.


While Balogun scored in Sunday's match, the player he replaced in the starting XI nearly connected on a pair of opportunities in the second half. Ricardo Pepi had a pair of point-blank chances saved by Bolivian goalkeeper Guillermo Viscarra in the 90th minute. He had two other shots that were saved by Viscarra as well after he came into the match for Balogun in the 66th minute.

The performances from Balogun and Pepi on Sunday all continue the debate on which one should start at the nine position for the United States moving forward in Copa América. On "FOX Soccer Now," Wes Morgan rated Balogun's performance a nine.

"I thought he had a fantastic game," Morgan said. "He should be full of confidence. He got a goal. He was a constant threat. Let me give him a nine." 

Morgan believes that Balogun's finessing ability makes him a tougher matchup for opposing defenders, which is why he thinks he should keep starting at the nine for the United States. 

"It wasn't just [Balogun's goal] today," Morgan said. "I think his all-around game, his movement and the threat he posed definitely earned him a start for the next game."

Melissa Ortiz agreed with Morgan, believing that the United States would be smart to ride Balogun after he found the net for the first time in eight months. 

"By the fact that Flo scored this goal today, the way to go is to give him the edge," Ortiz said. "Give him the other start in the next game against Panama and see what happens there. Obviously, if he scores, that's massive. But if he puts on a good performance, that just really solidifies his starting position at the nine. 

"Of course, you keep relying on someone like Pepi or you give the opportunity to someone like Josh Sargent. But with how this game played out, I think Flo deserves that starting spot at the nine."

Grading USMNT player performances in win over Bolivia

Jimmy Conrad didn't dissent from the rest of the panel's view of the situation. He believes that Balogun should get the start at the nine position. However, he credited Pepi for his ability to be as effective as he has been in the minutes that he's gotten when he's played off the bench. 

"I do think [Pepi's] pigeonholed as someone who can come off the bench and provide a spark, much to his chagrin," Conrad said. 
But because he comes at it so professional and with a good attitude he tries to give everything he has. Every time he comes on for club or country … he still made the most of his minutes. His goals-to-minute ratio is pretty incredible, all things considered, even with the US. So, there is something about that that I really value. From his perspective, he must hate it a ton. 

"But I would go with Flo. Sometimes players are better when they're starters as opposed to when they come off the bench."

Even though all three were in unison that Balogun should get the start at the nine spot for Thursday's match against Panama, Ortiz thinks there's an opportunity for Pepi to get the start when the United States faces Uruguay in the Group C finale. 

"He's important, especially on the defensive side. He does a lot of work on the press in that nine role," Ortiz said of Pepi. "So, I could maybe see - maybe not against Panama - but it against Uruguay where they could have him there as a starter, because he does defensively do good as a striker. I know that sounds a bit crazy, especially if you're not familiar with Paraguay or the role of a striker, but if he's initiating that initial press against a Uruguayan side that's going to be more dynamic. 

"I don't think Balogun does as much defensive work as Pepi. I think he's grown more into it based on his recent time with the US national team."


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