The U.S. men’s national team has won the recruitment battle for coveted multi-national striker Folarin Balogun, whose official request to switch his affiliation from England to the U.S. was approved by FIFA on Tuesday.
Balogun, 21, will be immediately eligible to represent the USMNT, and could play for the country of his birth as soon as next month, in either the Nations League semifinals or Gold Cup.
Balogun was born in New York to Nigerian parents, but spent most of his childhood in England. He therefore could have played any of the three countries. He represented England in official youth competitions, and as he rose through Arsenal‘s academy, he seemed destined for the senior team.
But, as he broke out with 19 goals this season on loan at French club Reims, an England call-up never came — and U.S. Soccer accelerated its recruitment. In March, Balogun pulled out of an England U-21 squad and traveled to Florida, where the USMNT was training. He left without publicly committing, but over the weeks and months after that visit, he made his decision.
Folarin Balogun’s rise
Balogun was born in Brooklyn — he has said that his parents were visiting family in New York at the time — but spent the vast majority of his childhood in London, which is where he learned the game that he grew to love.
He started at a local club, Aldersbrook, and played informally with friends. Then an Arsenal scout saw him at an all-day tournament and approached his father. Thus began a weeks-long trial, during which Tottenham called his father and also offered a trial. And so, for a short but crazy period, young Folarin would train with Arsenal’s academy on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays, and with Tottenham’s the rest of the week.
He eventually chose Arsenal, and rose through a fiercely competitive academy, first as a winger and then as a goal-scoring center forward. The move to striker unleashed him. A prolific season earned him his first youth national team call-ups — with England’s U17s — and placed him on American radars.
U.S. fans and coaches have tracked him ever since, and increasingly this season, his first with regular playing time at a first-division club. After spending the latter half of last season on loan at Middlesbrough in England’s second-tier Championship, and with the Arsenal first team proving difficult to crack, the Gunners sent him on loan to Reims.
He started with a bang in Ligue 1 and never really slowed down. He’s scored 19 goals, tied for fifth in the league, and underlying numbers suggest Balogun’s fiery form is no fluke. He sits second among all Ligue 1 players, behind only Kylian Mbappé, in non-penalty Expected Goals, a combined measure of shot quantity and quality. He is excelling at a firmly mid-table club, meaning his success is not a product of brilliance all around him. He is clever, quick and clinical with both feet.
His commitment will, in theory, instantly elevate the USMNT because he will fill a position of need. The U.S. has struggled to find a consistent striker since Jozy Altidore’s decline late last decade. Balogun could be that striker for a decade to come.