Balogun picked US over England because ‘I just went with my heart’
Folarin Balogun posted a photo on Instagram last March and people figured out he was in Orlando, Florida, where the U.S. soccer team was training. American fans wanted him to choose their national team instead of England’s.
“When the comments started coming in,” he said, “I was just kind of surprised ... kind of overwhelmed.”
Balogun committed to the U.S. team in mid-May and the 21-year-old forward is training with the Americans in Carson, California, ahead of a likely debut in the CONCACAF Nations League semifinal against Mexico on June 15 at Las Vegas.
“Flo is a really talented player that’s going to bring a fiery edge to the group,” said goalkeeper Matt Turner, Balogun’s teammate at Arsenal last summer. “He’s a super competitive guy.”
Balogun was loaned from Arsenal to Reims in August. He scored 21 goals, tied for fourth in France’s Ligue 1 and trailing only Kylian Mbappé (29), Alexandre Lacazette (27) and Jonathan Davis (24).
Born in New York, Balogun grew up in London and was eligible to play for Nigeria through his family. Anthony Hudson, who took over as interim coach in January when Gregg Berhalter’s contract expired, invited Balogun to the Orlando training camp.
“He said that it would be good for me to come in and have some food and sit down and talk with him,” Balogun said Friday. “I was with my agent, as well, so the timing was good. We spoke about a lot of things and he just explained the vision for U.S. soccer.”
Balogun returned to France and mulled his decision for nearly two months.
“It was an internal decision between myself, my family and my agent,” he said. “At the end of the day, I just went with my heart.”
Balogun said he was not influenced by England coach Gareth Southgate, who was quoted as saying: “We would like him to give it some time and if he is progressing the way he is and continues that progression there will be opportunities for him but I cannot offer him that this week. I think if we did, I don’t think that would be fair on Ivan Toney who has scored the goals he has in the Premier League.”
By the time Balogun started training with the U.S. team this week, Hudson had quit to become coach of Qatar’s Al Markhiya and B.J. Callaghan took over as American interim coach while the U.S. Soccer Federation searches for a long-term hire.
“He was one of the first guys I called when I got the news,” Callaghan said. “He’s someone that I spoke to about embracing the brotherhood that we have. It’s a welcoming environment. The guys are going to welcome and they’re all excited and he’s excited. ... But at the same time, I challenged him and I said, listen, you have to put yourself out there and you have to integrate with the group.”
Balogun joins a forward pool that includes Jesús Ferreira, who also is in camp, along with Ricardo Pepi, Josh Sargent, Daryl Dike and several others.
“We have to feed him the ball and he’s going to put it in the goal,” said midfielder Yunus Musah, who has known Balogun since they both were at Arsenal’s youth academy. “That’s pretty much it.”