United States
USMNT might finally have answer to striker problem in Folarin Balogun
United States

USMNT might finally have answer to striker problem in Folarin Balogun

Updated May. 16, 2023 3:07 p.m. ET

Folarin Balogun and the United States Soccer Federation had only just been notified by FIFA early Tuesday morning that the Arsenal striker's petition to represent the U.S. in international competition instead of England had been approved.

Yet within a few hours, the news was already reverberating on both sides of the Atlantic, with global soccer's governing body soon confirming the Brooklyn-born, London-raised Balogun's one-time switch of allegiance. The intense interest in Balogun's decision is understandable in both countries.

Balogun becomes the latest in a parade of highly regarded young dual citizens to choose the U.S. over more decorated programs in recent years. In 2020, midfielder Yunus Musah also opted for the Stars and Stripes over England; last November, Musah played all 90 minutes in a scoreless draw with the Three Lions at the World Cup.

"To represent the United States means a lot," Balogun said in a press release. "I'm very proud and honored to have this opportunity, and I want to give everything I have to make our team successful." 


U.S. fans are even more excited about Balogun, who just happens to fill the Americans' most glaring positional need. The 21-year-old has 19 goals in 34 games on loan from the Gunners to French team Reims this season.

Balogun instantly becomes the leading candidate to start at center forward for the Americans in next month's CONCACAF Nations League semifinal against chief rival Mexico.

"Having the opportunity to play against Mexico in a rivalry match would be amazing," he said. "Hopefully, I can make a difference." 

Another recruiting coup for the U.S., maybe the most important yet

Like many countries, the U.S. has been fielding dual nationals for decades. And like most others, they've also lost some along the way — most notably New Jersey product Giuseppe Rossi, who opted to play for Italy in the mid-2000s.

But the Americans have been on a roll since 2019, when then-USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter and then-U.S. Soccer sporting director Earnie Stewart flew to the Netherlands to secure the commitment of fullback Sergiño Dest, who was being aggressively recruited by the Dutch. Musah joined up a year later. So did others during Berhalter's four years at the helm, including forwards Jesús Ferreira (Colombia), Ricardo Pepi (Mexico) and Daryl Dike (Nigeria).

Berhalter and his staff didn't land everyone they wanted. But by and large, U.S. Soccer has been wildly successful in this space in recent years — success that has built on itself. 

Musah spent time with Balogun in Arsenal's academy and shared his positive experiences with the U.S. program with his former (and now future) teammate, a source confirmed to FOX Sports. The Americans' showing at the World Cup in Qatar didn't hurt, either, nor did the fact the U.S. will host the Copa America next summer and the World Cup in 2026.

"It's almost too good to be true," Balogun said. "To have the World Cup in America is just crazy, and then to be the host nation and my first World Cup, it's all come together nicely. Some things are just meant to be."

However it happened, it's another clear coup for the U.S. And given Balogun's age, pedigree and obvious scoring touch, he has a chance to end up being the most impactful of them all.

No coach? No problem for Balogun

The timing of Balogun's decision says a lot about how far the USMNT has come since failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. The program's first contact with the player came last year, through Berhalter. Berhalter's contract expired last year, and while recently hired U.S. Soccer sporting director Matt Crocker insists he's a candidate to return, the uncertainty didn't dissuade Balogun any.

Not only did the USMNT not have a coach when U.S. Soccer rolled out the red carpet for Balogun in Orlando in late March, Crocker wasn't yet on board. Neither was Oguchi Onyewu, who effectively became Crocker's deputy last week. Former USMNT general manager Brian McBride had departed months earlier.

None of that organizational uncertainty moved Balogun to wait to make his choice. The fact he picked the U.S. without even knowing which coach will be making the lineup decisions between now and 2026 speaks to how comfortable he was, how sure he is that playing for his birth nation — which he left at age 2 — is the best option. 

"In the end, it became a no-brainer," Balogun said of his decision. "It feels like I'm at home here."

That's a testament to the culture that has been built in the American dressing room.

Newcomer could lead American line for years

While Musah and other recent commits lauded how they were immediately accepted by their U.S. teammates, and while the Americans no doubt did all they could to make Balogun feel welcome when he visited their camp, the on-field fit was surely also a factor.

Harry Kane is England's captain and starting striker when healthy, and he's still just 29. Behind him are at least two other established Premier League scorers: Marcus Rashford and Callum Wilson.

The U.S., meanwhile, has been without a clear-cut center forward since Jozy Altidore's days with the national team ended in 2019. Three different men — Ferreira, Haji Wright and Josh Sargent — started games for the Americans at the World Cup. Only Wright scored in Qatar. Balogun has more goals this season than any of them, plus Dike and Pepi, despite playing in a stronger league.

The opportunity for Balogun is clear. He withdrew from England's U-21 camp in March and flew to Florida only after England senior team boss Gareth Southgate didn't name a replacement for the injured Rashford. Now, he's likely to make his full international debut inside a packed NFL stadium in Las Vegas in less than a month, with plenty more high-profile games to follow.

"It's a really young, energetic squad and for sure the potential of the squad is amazing," Balogun said. "I think I can add my qualities."

In the end, the chance to quickly establish himself as the guy for the Americans for the better part of the next decade simply was too attractive for Balogun to pass up.

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports, and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter at @ByDougMcIntyre.


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