Striker Folarin Balogun is in Florida this week amid a serious push from U.S. Soccer for him to switch his international allegiance from England to the United States, sources told ESPN.
Sources added that Balogun has met with the USMNT, who had been training in Florida preparing for Nations League matches at Grenada on Friday and against El Salvador in Orlando on Monday.
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The 21-year-old is having a breakout season at Reims in Ligue 1, on loan from Arsenal, with 17 goals in 27 matches, behind only Kylian Mbappe and Jonathan David in the Golden Boot race.
The New York-born striker has mostly represented England at the international youth levels, though he did feature for the U.S. under-18 team at a tournament in 2018. Despite his goal-scoring form, Balogun was not called into the full England national team this international window and pulled out of the England under-21 camp with an undisclosed injury.
Balogun, who is also eligible to represent Nigeria, hinted at feeling snubbed by England, posting on his Instagram story: “In life, go where you’re appreciated.”
He later posted pictures of himself that appear to be in Orlando and a separate photo on grass, captioned “This heat!” (Orlando’s temperature is in the 80s this week). The posts generated thousands of comments from U.S. supporters urging Balogun to the play for the USMNT.
This heat! 😮💨 pic.twitter.com/N9C69NOLzm
— Balogun (@balogun) March 23, 2023
It is well understood that U.S. Soccer has pursued Balogun for months — if not longer — and interim coach Anthony Hudson said last week the federation has an “open dialogue” with him.
“It’s been really important to make sure we’re doing all we can to engage with and, if there are any dual nationals out there that can help the team,” Hudson said.
“We need to move forward and connect and engage and get these guys and see where what they want to do and try and encourage them by showing what we’re doing. Hopefully, we get guys to come and come to us.”
According to one source, the trip was designed in order to help Balogun feel comfortable with a potential switch to the U.S., similar to how Yunus Musah spent time around the team before he switched from England to the U.S. Coincidently, Musah and Balogun were teammates in the Arsenal academy.
It’s unclear how close Balogun is to making a final decision, but his willingness to travel to Florida this week, if nothing else, indicates he is giving serious consideration to playing for the U.S.
England U-21 coach Lee Carsley said Balogun has not given him an indication he was considering a change.
“You can’t twist someone’s arm to play for England,” Carsley said Thursday. “You know we can only make him feel as welcome as we can. We rate him highly. We’ve supported him when things weren’t great. We called him into the 21s when he was playing for Arsenal’s Under-23s because I knew what potential he had.”
Balogun has appeared twice for Arsenal in the Premier League, but spent most of last season on loan at Middlesbrough in the Championship, where he scored three goals in 20 matches across all competitions.