Folarin Balogun’s first full day on this Earth was in New York City on the Fourth of July. His parents were visiting family there, but returned shortly after to their home in London.
Were it not for that trip, perhaps the Arsenal loanee striker – currently playing at Stade de Reims – wouldn’t have been revealed earlier this week as the next great attacking hope for the United States of America.
The US men’s national team’s striking corps at the 2022 World Cup did not impress fans – who went into that tournament already fearing the worst. Now, the questions surrounding the future of the USA’s No 9 role – previously held by such names as Eric Wynalda, Brian McBride, Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey – can be answered by Balogun.
With a Copa America next year and a home World Cup in 2026, it could not have come at a more exciting time for soccer in the US.
With his big decision out of the way, DailyMail.com looks back on the striker’s past, analyzes his present, and takes a look towards what he could mean for the future of the sport in America.
Folarin Balogun officially became a member of the United States men’s national team Tuesday
He plays at French team Reims, on loan from Arsenal, and is outscoring stars like Neymar
The Brooklyn-born, London-raised talisman has now pledged his international future to USA
Balogun was born on July 3 in Brooklyn while his parents were visiting his family. They are Nigerian immigrants who were living in England at the time.
‘My parents were on holiday there for a few months because we have family in New York – my mother has an aunt there,’ Balogun told Ligue1.com in November. ‘But very soon after I was born, we all moved back to London.
While he hasn’t spent much time in the United States, Balogun will spend much of his summer on this side of the pond – he could play in both the Nations League and the Gold Cup with the USMNT and in multiple friendlies with Arsenal.
The man seen as the future of the American attacking talent began his days playing center back, before eventually moving up the field. It was his talents at the top of the pitch that landed him a trial with Arsenal at just ten years old.
Fellow north London rivals Tottenham also came calling, but after sessions with both clubs, he chose the Gunners.
The United States called him up for a friendly tournament in 2018. By that time, Balogun had already been playing with England for the U-17 Euros, and he couldn’t compete with the US in an official tournament.
Alongside current USMNT senior teammates Taylor Booth, Aidan Morris, and Bryan Reynolds, Balogun got to experience playing for the United States briefly before playing with England’s U-20 and U-21 sides. Now, he’ll be making his senior debut in Las Vegas in the CONCACAF Nations League.
As a kid, Balogun had trials at Tottenham and Arsenal – and he has stuck with Arsenal
His performances there earned him multiple callups with the England youth national teams
Balogun (second from left, top row) also played in friendlies with the US youth team
Balogun will head into those games in the form of his life. His time at Reims in France has been richly rewarding. Balogun hasn’t just thrived – he’s been on the level of superstars that grace the same pitch as him. In many cases, he’s surpassing them.
Facing the Parisian giants in late January, PSG went up early in the second half thanks to Neymar. But Balogun miraculously rescued the point with the last kick of the game for it to end 1-1.
Multiple times throughout the season – in a league that included the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi, Neymar and other lethal talents like Alexandre Lacazette and Jonathan David, it was Balogun atop the scoring table.
With roughly three more matches remaining in the season, Balogun is the joint-fifth best scorer in the league with four more goals than Messi and and Neymar and seven behind leading scorer Mbappe.
In April of 2020, he signed a long term deal to stay with the Gunners – reportedly earning just shy of $40,000 a week.
Prior to inking that deal, Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta had high praise for Balogun, saying, ‘we count on him and we believe in him and if he wants, he’s going to have a future in the club.’
But he struggled to find playing time the following season – leading to a loan to first tier Middlesbrough before this summer’s France switch. When he returns to London this summer, he will have a point to prove.
Balogun is believed to earn around $40,000-a-week on his current Arsenal contract
He left the club on loan to Middlesbrough last season, then departed for Reims this year
He’s lit Ligue 1 alight – scoring sublime goals like this points-saver against Paris Saint-Germain
That scoring form in France attracted attention from the US – who were looking to boost their attacking power with someone eligible to play for the country and whose reputation is as big as Balogun’s.
In the March international break, England manager Gareth Southgate spurned the 21-year-old once again – despite his red-hot form that had seen him bag 17 goals and two assists in all competitions to that point.
Southgate seemed unwilling to consider a callup despite being in better scoring form than Callum Wilson, who did make the team.
The England boss said in March, ‘Is [Balogun] prepared to wait a little bit for an opportunity if he backs himself and feels he can push his way into our squad? I know there are going to be offers as 80 per cent of our players can play for more than one country now, and we are not arrogant expecting everybody to want to come to play for England.
‘We have to make them feel wanted and feel part of that.’
But despite his sublime goalscoring form, Balogun wasn’t called up by Gareth Southgate
So Balogun has headed to where he is wanted, joining with the United States national team
Balogun was clearly listening and felt that he shouldn’t wait much longer – posting on Instagram, ‘In life go where wanted’. He was wanted in Orlando, which is where the striker decided to spend his break – taking in an NBA game as well as major league baseball spring training.
He also spoke with US Soccer officials – including manager Anthony Hudson – and even got in a training session at the same complex of fields the USMNT was using during their camp.
After being announced by US Soccer on Tuesday, Hudson said, ‘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 U.S. roots and we can’t wait for him to come in and be a part of the team.’
Since he took the interim USMNT job, it’s been a trend in Hudson’s press conferences to talk about how good of a group of guys he has in terms of their personalities and Balogun should look to join that team.
He described himself as a jokester when he was a child, telling Ligue1.com, ‘I think my teachers would say I was mischievous, a bit of a prankster. But I was a good kid. I never got kicked out of class or anything like that. I liked to have fun with my mates and sometimes I would tease them in class, or chat.’
But Balogun’s also got some distinctly British features about him – most notably, his accent. Much like coach Hudson and teammates Antonee Robinson and Cameron Carter-Vickers, his roots in England have left him sounding a little different than his peers.
The striker seemed hurt by the snub as he posted: ‘In life, go where [you’re] appreciated’
Balogun ended up going to Orlando, training on the same pitch the US men’s team was on
While his future lies with the United States, Balogun’s outlook at the club level is not so clear to predict. After Arsenal’s big acquisition of Gabriel Jesus last summer, and the team looking for more power this year, the next great American striker might be looking elsewhere.
Arsenal have set an asking price of around $32million for the striker – with clubs such as AC Milan, Marseille, and RB Leipzig are all interested in the newly-minted American wunderkind.
Any one of those clubs could boost the stature of the youngster Americans hope could see a similar career start as that of players like Landon Donovan.
Balogun clearly has the potential for it. Not only is he quick, but the 21-year-old has shown great intelligence with his runs, a deft first touch, and the deadly ability to score with both feet.
He’s listed players like Edinson Cavani and Robert Lewandowski as idols and those he wishes to model his game after. At the current rate, who’s to say he can’t be as good as those two attacking legends?
American soccer fans will surely hope that can be the case after a dismal World Cup performance from the striking group. Strikers Josh Sargeant, Haji Wright, and Jesus Ferreira combined for ten shots all tournament with three on target and one goal.
USA’s interim head coach Anthony Hudson confirmed they had talks with Balogun at the time
It all led to Tuesday – when Balogun’s one-time-switch was approved by FIFA to play for the US
Despite the efforts of young players like Ricardo Pepi and Jordan Pefok – or older names like Jordan Morris – none of them have shown to be as clinical or consistent this season as Balogun has at the club level.
He truly has that potential to be something American fans have been crying out for over the years: a name that truly strikes fear across the world. It’s something pinned to Freddy Adu, who didn’t meet others expectations, and Christian Pulisic – who is an incredibly talented player, but lately hasn’t shown that killer instinct.
It’s something that Balogun provides in buckets. After this season, if he can couple his scoring touch with a move to a club known the world over, he could possibly be the one to match that potential.
Fans of the USMNT are riding on it. Social reaction rejoiced the move as England was mocked for their failure to keep him. But Balogun’s move is the right one. Not only can he meet his potential with the United States, but he has the chance to become THE name in American soccer.
His profile is going to spiral in the process. At present, he’s quiet off the pitch. He keeps his private live off social media, doesn’t appear to have a girlfriend and in France, can get away with keeping himself to himself. That is all about to change.
Even with the addition of Balogun, the core of the US team that held England to a draw is intact
With the future of soccer in the US on the shoulders of this team, can Balogun answer the call?
Balogun would be part of a team set to bring back a strong midfield of Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah, and Tyler Adams as well as a corps of wingers like Pulisic, Brenden Aaronson, and Timothy Weah – with the striker serving as the long point of that attacking trident.
However, the man set to debut in Vegas has taken a huge gamble. In England, he’d be expected to be a major cog in one system. Now, he could be the face of the system for the United States.
It’s a lot of pressure to be putting on a 21-year-old, but after the season he’s had this year, he seems up to the challenge.
With Balogun at the helm, the United States may have patched the final gaping hole it had in its squad. Now, the kid whose destiny put him in Brooklyn at the right place and right time could be the one to lead the USMNT to its first ever taste of truly global success.