The U.S. men’s national team has won a recruitment battle for coveted multi-national striker Folarin Balogun, whose official request to switch his affiliation from England to the U.S. has been approved by FIFA.
Balogun, 21, will be immediately eligible to represent the USMNT, and could debut for the country of his birth as soon as next month. U.S. Soccer, in announcing the news, said that Balogun “is expected” to be part of the U.S. squad that plays Mexico in the Nations League semifinals on June 15.
Balogun was born in New York to Nigerian parents, then spent most of his childhood in England. He therefore could have played for any of the three countries internationally. He represented England in official youth competitions. As he rose through Arsenal’s academy, he seemed destined for the England senior team as well.
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.
He announced it via social media with a video that concluded: “I’m Coming Home. Let’s Make History.”
In an interview released by U.S. Soccer shortly thereafter, he said he made the decision together with his family, and when he told them of his final choice, his mom responded: “What took you so long?”
“It feels like I’m at home here,” Balogun said of the U.S. “In the end, it became a no-brainer.”
Balogun, who is nicknamed “Flo,” was born in Brooklyn – he has said that his parents were visiting family in New York at the time – but grew up in London, which is where he learned the game that he came 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.