Folarin Balogun leads Ligue Un in goals. He is ahead of Kylian Mbappé, Neymar, Lionel Messi, Jonathan David and Alexandre Lacazette. After 20 appearances in France’s top flight, Balogun has 14 goals. Moreover, he is doing this with Reims, a traditionally bottom-half-of-the-table team. He is on loan from Arsenal.
For good measure, Reims has 26 goals in league play this season. Balogun has over half of those.
More importantly, at least for present circles, is the fact that Folarin Balogun has eligibility for the USMNT. Of Nigerian descent and raised in England, Balogun was born in New York City in July 2001. Therefore, he has the chance to play for the USMNT for his international career.
At youth level, however, Balogun has a history of selecting England. He has played for England’s U17, U18, U20 and now U21 sides. Yet, do not rule out the United States. Balogun also has caps with a United States youth side.
In the summer of 2018, Balogun accepted a call-up to play in a youth tournament. He played four games, scoring twice along the way for the young USMNT hopefuls.
Knowing the possibility is there, US Soccer and the USMNT must devote everything to getting the allegiance of Folarin Balogun. The striker can be the much-needed solution to the US’s issues, and the potential only continues to grow.
Recruiting out of England
One of the major hurdles to overcome is getting Balogun to commit to the United States. Balogun is rare company to have the potential to play for three teams. As his parents are Nigerian, he could suit up for the Super Eagles. The striker added that he likes the way England plays, as he compared it to the playstyle of his parent club, Arsenal, back in 2019. Perhaps that indicates why he has played for the youth outfits for the Three Lions so regularly.
Balogun moved to England from the United States when he was two. Still, that allots plenty of time for Balogun to be US-available.
Plus, following this trend of acquiring players out of England, or Europe entirely, is not new for the United States.
Look no farther than another Arsenal youth product that likely knows Balogun, Yunus Musah. Both Musah and Balogun were in the Arsenal academy from 2012 to 2019.
Just like Balogun, Musah featured heavily for England youth sides. Musah had caps with the England U15, U16, U17 and U18 teams. Then, in March 2015, having already represented the USMNT in friendlies, Musah officially declared for the USMNT.
At the 2022 World Cup, Musah emerged as one of the USMNT’s most important players, despite being just a teenager. Folarin Balogun could follow the same trail.
Folarin Balogun can fit straight into the USMNT
Just like Musah fit the role as a box-to-box midfielder, there is an opening in the current USMNT squad that Balogun fits. Simply put, it is a No. 9. Moreover, it is a No. 9 that can put the ball away with confidence and regularity.
There are plenty of options at that position. Ricardo Pepi is having a decent season in the Eredivisie with Groningen. He has 10 goal contributions in league play this year. Granted, he did not get put on the USMNT’s World Cup squad.
Jesús Ferreira from FC Dallas, Haji Wright at Antalyaspor, Josh Sargent with Norwich. These are all decent options. Not star talents. Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah, Weston McKennie and Tim Weah are more that level, hence why they had locked-in positions at the World Cup. At least, that is true when they are on form and healthy.
Folarin Balogun has shown he is that level. He is lighting up Ligue Un, including a last-minute equalizer at PSG followed by a hat trick against Lorient in the next game.
Making the decision
There is no official timetable for when Folarin Balogun has to declare for either the USMNT or England. However, at the age of 21, he will start eyeing call ups to national sides for tournaments.
There is concern over who would actually recruit Balogun to the USMNT. Traditionally, head coaches or general managers or sporting directors lead the scouting department. In the event of a player making a choice, they would campaign to acquire said player, such as Folarin Balogun. However, US Soccer is currently without all three of those positions. The USSF parted ways with Earnie Stewart and Brian McBride. Also, the side has an interim head coach, with the Gregg Berhalter investigation ongoing. Unless US Soccer has given someone the authority to approach Balogun, it could be harder to recruit a player to the United States if there is no set plan in place.
England provides more of a challenge to get a role on the field. Harry Kane still has a few years left as the guaranteed starter. Plus, there is consistent talent coming out of a variety of clubs that can work into Gareth Southgate’s squad. That being said, if Balogun can get into the squad, there is much more chance for glory. England reached the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup, finished runner-up in Euro 2020 and only lost to France at the 2022 World Cup by lone goal.
The United States, on the other hand, can all but guarantee a starting spot in the squad. If Balogun can maintain his form in a top league in Europe, there is no reason the USMNT’s manager, Gregg Berhalter or someone else, cannot reserve a spot for Balogun. Of course, success with the United States is perhaps not as ‘glorious.’ The United States had a decent World Cup, reaching the round of 16 before losing to the Netherlands. Also, that was a young squad, perhaps Balogun can develop with that.
However, competitions like the Gold Cup or CONCACAF Nations League are less prestigious than its UEFA counterparts.
One major selling point US Soccer can use is the fact that the United States is a co-host of the 2026 World Cup. Few players have the opportunity to play on the biggest stage on home soil. Folarin Balogun could be one of them, if he chooses the USMNT.
PHOTO: IMAGO / PanoramiC
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