Folarin Balogun picks USMNT over England: FIFA approves switch for striker


UPDATE 2: Folarin Balogun has formally chosen to represent the United States in international competition, the federation confirmed Tuesday.

The 21-year-old striker, who represented England at the youth level and was also eligible for Nigeria, could make his debut during the USMNT’s Concacaf Nations League semifinal on June 15 vs. Mexico.

Born in Brooklyn, Balogun is an Arsenal academy product who’s thrived on loan at Ligue 1 side Stade Reims, where he has registered 19 goals in 34 games. With his accomplishments to date, Balogun could be the USMNT's No. 9 of the future during a crucial time when the country hosts the next Copa América (2024) and World Cup (2026).

“We are delighted that Folarin has chosen to represent the United States,” said USMNT interim head coach Anthony Hudson. “Not only is he an extremely talented player, he’s also a good man who is going to add value to our national team both on and off the field at a time when the team is continuing to improve. It’s clear that he values his US roots and we can’t wait for him to come in and be a part of the team.”

Balogun applied to FIFA for a one-time change of association from England. That paperwork was approved Tuesday.

“My decision to represent the United States came together with my family,” said Balogun, who was raised in England. “In the end it became a no-brainer, but for sure it’s just something I wanted to do and it feels like I’m at home here. To represent the United States means a lot, more than people would know. I’m very proud and honored to have this opportunity, and I want to give everything I have to make our team successful.”

UPDATE 1: Folarin Balogun essentially confirmed the news on his own social media platforms amid reports he's committed to the US men’s national team over England.

ORIGINAL: US men’s national team fans woke up to huge recruiting news Tuesday morning: Reims striker Folarin Balogun has chosen to represent the Yanks in international soccer instead of England, according to widespread reports.

The one-time switch of association, reportedly approved by FIFA, would make the 21-year-old eligible to represent the US as they mount a two-front title defense in the Concacaf Nations League and Concacaf Gold Cup this summer.

In late March, the Balogun sweepstakes drew headlines left and right when the striker trained in Florida, the site of the USMNT’s Nations League training camp. Balogun, born in New York City, had bowed out of an England Under-21s camp due to injury. He was also eligible to represent Nigeria.

After not breaking into England's senior set-up, Balogun could become the USMNT’s starting No. 9 in the buildup to the North America 2026 World Cup being co-hosted by the US, Canada and Mexico. Nobody has locked down the position for several years, despite club-level breakthroughs from Europe-based strikers like Josh Sargent (Norwich City) and Ricardo Pepi (Groningen), as well as MLS-based strikers like Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas) and Brandon Vazquez (FC Cincinnati).

Balogun, who’s on loan from Arsenal, sits sixth in the Ligue 1 Golden Boot race with 19 goals and three assists across 34 matches. He’s set to return to his Premier League parent club this summer, and possibly secure a move elsewhere with Gabriel Jesus and Eddie Nketiah seeing the lion’s share of minutes under head coach Mikel Arteta. With three games left in their 2022-23 campaign, Reims sit 11th in France's top division.

During his youth international career, Balogun also represented the US Under-18s during a series of friendlies in August 2018. That provides some familiarity with the program, but now he’s poised to become a long-term attacking centerpiece alongside the likes of Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Giovanni Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Tim Weah (Lille) and more.

The USMNT next play on June 15 in the Nations League semifinals vs. Mexico. They’re in Group A at the Gold Cup, opening with a June 24 match vs. Jamaica.