On May 17, 2023, U.S.-born forward Folarin Balogun was officially approved to represent the U.S. Men’s National Team after applying to FIFA for a one-time change of association.
The highly-sought after striker is now expected to be named to the roster for the Concacaf Nations League Final Four and could make his international debut for the USMNT in the semifinal against Mexico on June 15 in Las Vegas.
Here are five things to know about the man they call, “Flo”…
Born in New York to Nigerian parents who lived in England, Folarin Balogun was eligible to represent all three countries internationally.
Balogun came into the world on July 3, 2001, while his parents were visiting family in Brooklyn, which granted him birthright U.S. citizenship. Not long after he was born, the family moved back to London where, fortuitously, he began playing soccer with Aldersbrook in the city’s northeast.
Flo’s first big step forward in the game came at age 10 when he represented the club at an all-day tournament.
“We qualified for the final and I was having a very good tournament, playing well and scoring goals,” he told Ligue1.com last year. “While we were warming up before the final, I realized that someone was talking to my father on the sidelines. A man I had never seen before. Afterwards, I scored and we won the final 1-0. I was very happy. On the way back to the car, I was clearing the dirt off my boots when my dad handed me a business card from the man who had come to talk to him earlier, an Arsenal scout who was offering us a trial the following week."
Balogun went on trial with the Arsenal youth for the next month-and-a-half, but unbeknownst to Gunners’ camp, he had also received interest from their North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur. Trying to keep his options open, during that short period, the youngster spent Monday, Thursday and Friday training at Arsenal and Tuesday and Wednesday with Spurs.
After the six-week period, Balogun signed a schoolboy contract with the red side of North London where he rose through the youth ranks one year ahead of USMNT midfielder Yunus Musah.
Normally a winger, Balogun was shifted to center forward at age 16. The change in position altered his career trajectory, with the striker recording 25 goals in 19 matches during the 2018-19 U-18 Premier League campaign, boosting his stature at the club and pushing him towards international football for the first time.
International Play Thus Far
Owing to his strong performances with the Arsenal Academy, Balogun began representing England at the U-17 level in 2018.
Also on the radar with U.S. Soccer, he was invited to take part in a friendly tournament with the U.S. U-18 side that year, scoring two goals over four matches to help the USA win the Vaclev Jezek tournament in Czechia that August. During his short stint with the U.S. U-18s, Balogun featured with current senior team players Taylor Booth, Aidan Morris and Bryan Reynolds.
Balogun continued on with the England setup following his short stint with the U.S. U-18s, featuring for the Three Lions’ U-20 and U-21 sides, the latter of which he represented in
UEFA U-21 European Championship qualification, scoring six goals in 10 matches between 2021-22.
Due to his representation of England in official youth competition, Balogun needed to file a one-time “change of association” request with FIFA in order to begin playing for the United States.
Concurrent with his rise on the youth national team front, Balogun continued to climb up the developmental ladder with Arsenal, leading to a memorable first team debut. At age 19 on October 29, 2020, he came off the bench to provide an assist and score his first goal in a 4-2 win against Dundalk in UEFA Europa League group stage play. He found the back of the net again a month later, tallying in a 3-0 win at Molde in the same competition.
After making his Premier League debut at Brentford on Aug. 13, 2021, Balogun went on a season’s long loan to EFL Championship side Middlesbrough where he registered three goals in 18 league appearances.
He returned to Arsenal for preseason last summer when he became acquainted with newly acquired USMNT goalkeeper Matt Turner before setting out on loan again, this time to French Ligue 1 side Stade Reims. Just like his shift in positions years earlier, the change of scenery from England to France was extraordinary for Balogun, who scored in his debut on Aug. 7 at Marseille and has gone on to rack up 19 goals and two assists in 34 league matches this season.
Contact with the USMNT
Perhaps fueled in part by Yunus Musah’s successful switch to play for the USMNT, whispers of excitement about the potential for Balogun to do the same started bubbling up in fall 2021.
That enthusiasm grew further with Balogun’s breakout season in France and his well-timed decision to take a holiday in Florida at the same time as the USMNT prepared for its Concacaf Nations League group stage matches against Grenada and El Salvador this past March.
During his stay in Florida earlier this spring, Balogun trained on his own, hung out with friends and attended Orlando Magic and New York Yankees spring training games.
The night after the USA’s 7-1 win against Grenada in the Nations League, a number of USMNT players including Musah, Turner, Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie met up for dinner with Balogun to make sure he enjoyed his last night in the United States. USMNT supporters had also done their part to encourage Balogun to consider a switch from the moment they realized he was in Florida.
“I didn’t know how intense the fans in the U.S. were until I was out in Orlando back in March,” he told ussoccer.com “I think that’s when I really saw the full force of it. I was there doing a bit of training, and I just posted a photo with my friends thinking that it was just a holiday picture. Before I knew it I just saw loads of comments and people knew I was in America, and I just really felt the love from there. There’s been a lot of build up, so I’ve obviously seen people saying that I should choose to represent the U.S. and it’s just something I’m really happy that I’ve decided to do.”
What They’re Saying About Flo
Having played a main role in the recruitment process for Balogun, U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Anthony Hudson had this to say about what the 21-year-old can bring to the USMNT:
“What he’ll do straight away is add competition in that position,” Hudson said. “This is a team that has an incredible average age, with talented players that are playing all around Europe and MLS. The team is growing and going in one direction and Flo is someone that, with his age and profile as a player and what he wants to achieve for club and country, is just a great addition to the squad because he fits into how we want to do things. He fits into the ambition of the rest of the group. We’re really delighted that he’s made the decision because he’s going to add a huge amount of quality to the squad.