GENEVA (AP) — Promising striker Folarin Balogun has opted to play for the U.S. national team rather than England.
FIFA said in a statement to The Associated Press on Tuesday that it approved a request to change Balogun’s national team affiliation from England, which he had represented at the under-21 level.
The 21-year-old Balogun, who has 19 goals in the French league this season while on loan at Reims from Arsenal, was born in New York and grew up in London. He had also been eligible to play for Nigeria through family ties.
“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,” U.S. interim coach Anthony Hudson said in a statement. “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.”
Balogun has been in demand after a breakout season in France.
He was dueling with Kylian Mbappé to top the scoring charts for much of the season, although the Paris Saint-Germain star now leads with 26 goals. Balogun is tied for fifth.
Balogun, born in Brooklyn to Nigerian parents who were living in London, said the choice to play for the U.S. was taken with his family.
“We decided it would be the right thing for me, to represent the country I was born in. In the end it became a no-brainer,” he said in an interview published by the USSF.
Balogun explained last year in an interview with the French league website how he came to be born in the U.S.
“My parents were on holiday there for a few months because we have family in New York,” he said. “But very soon after I was born, we all moved back to London.”
Balogun also acknowledged “London is my city, it’s where I grew up, where my friends are, and if people ask me where I’m from, I say I’m English. But, yes, I am a mixture of all these cultures.”
He was nurtured at Arsenal, where he had coaching sessions with club great Thierry Henry, and played for England and the U.S. at youth level before establishing himself in the England U21s.
His decision to represent the United States came five weeks before England plays in the Under-21 European Championship being hosted by Romania and Georgia.
FIFA rules allow players to change national eligibility before playing in a competitive game at senior level.
The U.S. and Hudson courted Balogun on a visit to Florida in March. The top player pool is expected to be used for CONCACAF Nations League games in Las Vegas against Mexico on June 15 and three days later vs. Panama or Canada
“Luckily for me, my first time is going to be in a competitive tournament so of course the ambition is to win and there’s not really much more to it,” Balogun said in the USSF interview. “I’m going to have the opportunity to get in and train with the boys, but for sure it’s just straight down to business when we head to Vegas.”
A squad mostly from Major League Soccer is planned for the CONCACAF Gold Cup from June 24 to July 16, when Europe-based players are on vacation and then start reporting to clubs for preseason training.
The U.S., Mexico and Canada will play mostly friendlies for the next three years ahead of co-hosting the first 48-team men’s World Cup in 2026.