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Friday, July 19, 2024
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Folarin Balogun is teasing USMNT fans as the solution to the team’s striker woes

Folarin Balogun wasn’t at the US men’s national team’s CONCACAF Nations League win over El Salvador, but the 21-year-old was very much present in the minds of many fans in Orlando. Balogun could be the solution to the USA’s number nine problems and it seems increasingly likely that he will commit to the programme.

Balogun spent the international break teasing USMNT fans. First, the young striker posted a message to his Instagram account hinting at his displeasure at being overlooked for Gareth Southgate’s England squad. Then he was pictured in Orlando, where Anthony Hudson and the US team were based.

“As I’ve said before, we’ve had dialogue,’ Hudson said when asked about Balogun. “We’ve spoken. He’s out here having a bit of a break and then some training, and we’ve had some discussions. I think it’s been good because it’s been an opportunity for us just to share about our program and who we are and what we do and that’s it. I hope we get the chance to speak to him again. It’s been good and I know a few of the guys have spoken to him as well.”

The hype around Balogun is understandable. He has netted 17 goals in just 28 Ligue 1 appearances for Reims this season. He isn’t one-dimensional, though – Balogun’s all-round game suggests he could be a good fit for the USMNT’s approach, with the 21-year-old capable of dropping deep and playing a part in possession play.

On loan at Reims from Arsenal, Balogun could have a future in the Premier League. The Gunners are well-stocked for attacking options, but Balogun could still strengthen their squad. He could still give Mikel Arteta something different and is young enough to improve even further. For club and country, Balogun’s future is bright.

Post-World Cup, the USMNT is in a state of flux. Hudson is operating as interim head coach while US Soccer assesses all candidates for the permanent job. Gregg Berhalter is still on the shortlist after the scandal involving Gio Reyna and his family while Zinedine Zidane was approached over his availability earlier this year.

Jesse Marsch is a free agent after leaving Leeds United and could be seen as an option, while some are arguing that Patrick Vieira should be a candidate after his recent sacking by Crystal Palace. At this moment, though, it’s unclear which direction the USMNT will take as they prepare for the 2026 World Cup on home soil. Their decision matters immensely.

Even in this transitional period, there is a common determination to recruit Balogun. The USMNT boasts quality in all areas apart from in the striker position, where Berhalter started three different players in just four matches at the 2022 World Cup. This is why the stakes are so high in the pursuit of Balogun.

Only Kylian Mbappe and Jonathan David have scored more goals in Ligue 1 this season than Balogun. For the USMNT, he would fit into a frontline that includes Christian Pulisic, Brenden Aaronson, Tim Weah and Reyna. Balogun would have the support system around him to be a success at international level.

“Obviously, from our side, we’d love to have him,” Pulisic said when asked about the prospect of Balogun playing for the US. Pulisic likely recognises how having a top-level centre forward to play alongside would elevate his own level and productivity in the attacking third. Balogun would lift the standard of the team as a whole.

This isn’t the first time US Soccer have pursued a dual national. In fact, recruitment of such players has been an important aspect of the national team’s improvement over the last few years with Sergino Dest and Yunus Musah called up in a similar way. They too were given an experience of the healthy national team environment. 

Musah and Balogun played together at youth team level for Arsenal. Whether or not that friendship helps the USMNT recruit the 21-year-old, the fact Balogun was willing to travel to Orlando during an international break underlines how seriously he is considering playing for the US over England and Nigeria.

2026 might be some way off, but the USMNT has no time to waste in developing to a point where they can be truly competitive at their own World Cup. Some of that will require time and effort on the training pitch, but the recruitment of Balogun would also see the USMNT take a massive stride forward.

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