Folarin Balogun Is a Game-Changer For US Soccer

Folarin Balogun U.S. Soccer Portrait Session
Folarin Balogun U.S. Soccer Portrait Session / USSF/GettyImages

Folarin Balogun made the long-awaited decision on his international future on Tuesday, selecting to tie himself to the U.S. men's national team for the rest of his soccer career. Born in Brooklyn and raised in England, the 21-year-old striker was eligible to play for the U.S., England or Nigeria. He chose the USMNT, fundamentally changing the team the Americans can put on the field.

At the 2022 World Cup, an absurdly young U.S. squad showed well, thoroughly outplaying Wales and England in draws and beating Iran in a match that may have been a bit too close for comfort. Despite excellent defending and dominant midfield play, the Americans only netted two goals in the Group stage. In a 3-1 Round of 16 loss to the Netherlands, it was clear the U.S. had no real goal-scoring threat to get on the end of passes and finish in the box. Play in the final third was -- and is -- a huge issue for the current crop of players. The Americans have tons of talent in the midfield and on the wings, but striker has been a consistent issue.

Balogun fits exactly with the U.S. was missing, a pure striker who can score goals, something the country has been missing for the better part of a decade. The U.S. hasn't had a consistent goal-scorer atop its formation since Clint Dempsey retired. Jozy Altidore was spotty for years and a succession of potential stars has come and gone without success. Guys like Josh Sargent, Haji Wright, Daryl Dike, Jesus Ferreira and Ricardo Pepi have all had opportunities but failed to consistently convert and make the job theirs.

Balogun possesses more talent than any of the guys mentioned above, and he's actually been scoring goals in a top European league. This season at Reims in France's Ligue 1 (on loan from Arsenal), he scored 19 goals in 34 matches. He had 20 goals in 36 total matches for Reims during the 2022-23 campaign. It's unlikely he wins the first-team job at Arsenal next season due to the club's logjam at striker, so he's a candidate for a permanent move to a big club. It's perfect timing for him to make the switch internationally.

Here are some highlights of Balogun's brilliant campaign at Reims:

Balogun possesses outstanding speed and can stretch an opponent's backline with ease. He has excellent body control on the ball and can beat defenders one-on-one. Despite his age, he possesses offensive savvy and knows how to find gaps in opposing defenses. Most importantly: he's a lethal finisher when the ball finds him in the box.

While Pepi, Ferreira and recent addition Brandon Vasquez could all carve out roles for the national team moving forward, it's clear the striker job is now Balogun's until further notice. With Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie and Yunus Musah creating a formidable midfield group, and Christian Pulisic, Giovanni Reyna, Tim Weah and Brenden Aaronson as attacking wings, the U.S. has a ton of talent to surround a guy with Balogun's finishing ability.

What's incredible about all the guys listed are their ages. Balogun (21), McKennie (24), Adams (24), Musah (20), Pulisic (24), Weah (23), Reyna (20) and Aaronson (22) are all 24 or younger. The U.S.'s youth movement is stunning.

Balogun is expected to make his debut for the U.S. this summer at the CONCACAF Nations League Finals. The Americans are set to face Mexico in the semifinals on June 15, which would be quite the welcome for the country's newest striker. Balogun will face a ton of expectations, but he has a great chance to live up to them.