There is already plenty of excitement surrounding Folarin Balogun ahead of a potential U.S. men’s national team debut this June and that excitement will rise a bit following his latest club performance on Sunday.
Balogun scored his 20th Ligue 1 goal of the season in Stade Reims’ 2-2 draw with Angers on Sunday, becoming the first American player to reach 20+ goals in a top-five European league. The 21-year-old has 21 goals for the French club across all competitions, ranking him 14th in Stade Reims’ all-time goalscoring ranks.
With the score level at 1-1, Balogun rifled Stade Reims into the lead in the 54th minute after a cross from Emmanuel Agbadou. However, Angers would tie things up just six minutes later earning a road draw in the match.
Balogun has enjoyed a stellar loan spell in France from his parent club Arsenal this season, fighting alongside PSG’s Kylian Mbappe for the league’s Golden Boot award over the past few months. Mbappe will likely capture the award, but Balogun’s heroics will not go unnoticed as he heads back to London this summer.
Balogun has one final match this season, a trip to Lyon on May 27 before he begins a busy summer. The Arsenal loanee is eligible to represent the USMNT during the upcoming Concacaf Nations League semifinals.
The USMNT faces Mexico in the semifinals on June 15 before a potential showdown with either Canada or Panama on June 18.
the top 5 thing gets annoying because we have had someone like jozy score roughly 30 in holland, or landon and wondo put up big numbers in MLS, history didn’t start today, and this devalues that. also particularly for ligue 1, france is routinely an elite team and ligue 1 is a good league but often enough despite say how PSG or lillle have done, it’s treated as second rate behind germany italy england spain. now we call the big 4 the big 5 so we can laud the accomplishments of a player in france. i seek consistency. not even sure if it’s so much ives’ issue as the way others run with this.
and then like i have said lately i want the fanboys to hold off a second and let him show the goods when he arrives here. we have a bad habit of composing the team off paper. i have high hopes but i want for him to produce and look involved before i put him on a pedestal. i worry some of the stats-quoting is like living vicariously through players but without demanding they play as well in the shirt.
to me it’s like the day ligue 1 went off FSC people forgot about it. whether a league is good shouldn’t be a popularity or broadcast rights question.
Dude, what? I can’t remember a time when France was NOT thought to be the 5th best league in Europe. In my opinion it’s probably the 4th, Italy and all that special (until this year’s resurgence).
Flo is the real deal. Not sure why we need to take a “wait and see” approach with a proven prospect (Arsenal developed, Intl. U-20 player and likely 20+ goal scorer). Has he not proven enough to let the hype train pick up a little steam?
Just IV, laying the groundwork so he can cover himself in glory either way. If Balogun bombs, he can say “see all you fanboys anointed an untested player.” If he does well he says “see my strategy to make him earn it playing a bunch of minutes paid off!”
to remove JR’s silly argument, i have high hopes for the kid. i just think it’s bad “process” to constantly run your team by handing the starting job straight to the next streaking player walking in the door. historically you would battle it out with the others and EARN the right. when we show up in qatar not sure who to use that’s because we spent last cycle rotating among the new flavors of the month then dropping them when they went cold. i am merely suggesting have a competition and then reward flo or whoever for actually WINNING THE JOB. this is not posturing. i have little worry a 20 goal scorer in france will forget how to dribble. spare me JR.
JR: my concern is in this GB analytics era we act like the team picks itself off of league stats when history says that’s not 100% predictive. i am merely saying have him go through the same process of earning it christian, reyna, and most of them did historically. i think you will get better intensity and productivity if new players have to make their case in a window of time. i think history has shown “but he has x for gronigen” doesn’t always translate. and yet we persist.
i think some of the all time best league scorers for a single season are like novakovich, lassiter, wondo, jozy, and landon. surely you can see where some of that list pans out and some hasn’t been as stellar. so maybe pause the hype machine a beat and make the kid put up the numbers first. and i don’t mean handing him every available minute to do so.
also, while the fanboys seem obsessed with who gets the 9 jersey, the starting job, an actual functioning soccer team might use all three strikers in a tournament, and might need as many as 2 to start. let’s say you adore balogun. i don’t even dispute he’s the favorite on paper. but if the starter gets all the minutes we continue to be clueless. who else to call. what happens if he gets hurt? tired? etc. “oh, we’ll pick the hot one.” we already know that doesn’t work. “we’ll pick the experienced one.” begs the question. so maybe resist your impulse to conduct a coronation game 1, make the starter earn it, figure out 2nd and 3rd place on the field too, and get it where we have a productive starter and can get a goal off the bench. or we can keep doing it this way which is great for fanboys reading box scores but awful for sorting rosters and getting strikers to produce in key games.
I don’t think anybody’s going to “hand” Balogun the job. The presumption – and this seems a safe one, for anybody who’s watched him – is that he has more than sufficient quality to win the starting gig. He looks like a young Thierry Henry on tape, and most importantly, even Thierry Henry thinks Balogun looks like a young Thierry Henry.
Mind, he’s got a ways to go before you can really mention the two players in the same breath, but he’s still a guy who dominates on a bad team in Ligue 1 has already shown he can survive in a very physical league – even if the pace isn’t quite what you see in the Prem or B1. But I look at Balogun and I don’t see a gimmick player, I see an elite athlete who also has the skillset, touch, and sophistication of movement you’d expect from a top Arsenal Academy product, and those are the kind of guys who do succeed at the topmost levels.
I definitely see him succeeding with us. It may take a minute and while I’d love it if he came storming out of the gate and scored a hat trick against Mexico, but how likely is that? National-team debuts are usually something an uncapped player just gets through, and it’s not until the third or fourth appearance and they start settling down that they can really assert themselves. (Alex Zendejas was a notable exception.)
Sure, there will without question be some knee-jerk overreactions from the casual fans if he does what you’d expect from a young player on his debut, but while I definitely want to see him against Mexico, I’d personally start Pepi and aim to give Balogun 30. If he wants to stick around for Gold Cup – and I personally hope he does – that’d be the time to start him.
Reyna started his first 7 national team matches. A NT manager should be a good enough evaluator of talent to say a player is our best or not. Granted Gio’s start came during Covid when travel restrictions and some player injured limited competition (Llanez, Konrad, Weah coming off injury hadn’t play more than 14 minutes in 7 app, Pulisic was out). Still Berhalter looked Reyna going in and judged him better than the other three based on his body of work for his club. This idea that Berhalter was looking at the stat sheet to pick his starters is moronic. The staff watches hours of players every week they know how each player in the pool is playing. Are they making the right runs? Are they meeting their defensive responsibilities, are the making the right passes? Are they running for 90 minutes or are they gassed after 15 minutes? That’s what an national team staff they don’t have daily training sessions to run they watch film. So yes when guys get benched and aren’t playing it’s hard for the staff to evaluate, if you have a proven track record like Pulisic it’s not a problem because he’s trusted. If your Busio it’s a problem. Why is the striker position open for Balogun to come into? Because no one took it. Not Sargent, not Wright, not Pefok, not Dike, not Ferreira, not Giaocchini or Hoppe. Even the Pepi Train had derailed not scoring in 10 straight before WC. The only one with more than 5g for NT before WC was Ferreira and that was boosted by Grenada. Berhalter wasn’t ignoring NT performance or using some complex analytics, it was they were all equally bleh so all you have left is how they’d trained previously and who was scoring for club.
Hudson has enough experience to compare Balogun in Ligue 1 and Pepi and Sargent in their leagues and say this guy is 2, this one and so on. If Flo is #1 coming in and he trains well he should start. This isn’t 1998, we aren’t asking them to evaluate a guy in Denmark vs a guy in Sweden vs a guy 3.Bundesliga based on some grainy vcr footage. Y Scout has it on their computers shortly after each match with multiple views. Hudson should have a pretty good feel who his best player is at each position. The guys that are hard to evaluate are Pulisic Dest and Reyna talent and history wise no issue but how can anyone know their fitness level at this point. Are they 45 minutes fit, 60, 90? And if they go 70 or more minutes in the semi what can they do in the final.
Q: i think you and i agree on sensibility. that he should rotate or sub in and prove he is as good as you think he looks, when playing with the US. i slightly disagree with the “looks good on tape” not so much in the sense of worry about talent as that the US and its fans lately seem obsessed with numbers or a vague sense of skill, and not enough concerned like whether our scheme — how we are trying to score — fits his specific toolbox. eg i think sargent is awful for a lazy scheme where we whack crosses into the 6 and expect strikers to spring in and crash the box. like i said before, some might see mcbride as crude, but we had a whole concept with wings to serve him and then him to head the ball. all too often lately we don’t even seem to care if the tactics match the drapes. a guy might be good for 15 in his league but we ain’t serving the balls in how his team does. maybe he’s a balls to feet guy. maybe he’s slow as molasses played into space or chasing wayward crosses. to me it needs to become we want to play x style so we need x players. if it’s any consolation to you, i think such choices should start from “how do my most talented players want to play.” to me the issue is GB and now hudson trying to force a style whether it works with the players or strikers or not, and pick players for numbers instead of fit.
i disagree with you that GB handled the position in praxis as you suggest. (and i see hudson give or take a tweak as an extension of his old boss). examples: pepi’s first cap was a 90 minute start during quali. he served zero apprenticeship. he starts 2 straight games and scores. but those games were honduras and jamaica who turned out to be awful. he didn’t score a goal for nearly 2 years from then, and still against soft teams like ES and grenada. so the coach gets a misleading idea the hot streak player can score for us when that is actually debatable at the toughest games. he then overreacts when he goes cold and leaves him off.
i know it might make it tougher to win some individual games this or next year but to me we should be rotating about 4-5 leading strikers sorting out a pecking order over time that is not as susceptible to easy opposition or luck. that no one gets the job alone for a long time until they’ve earned it over months. i just know how this team seems to work and whatever 30′ you think he plays, i think high percentage chance he starts the semi. handed right to him. and he’s pretty good but that’s not earned or proven in competition. and i think that’s how you avoid this sort of “pepi problem” where after an initial honeymoon is he even really a top 3 striker. we still don’t know 3 years in. that’s nuts.
we do the same thing at keeper. steffen got handed it. it turned out steffen wasn’t very good anymore. it turns out turner was the guy. turner had to wait on into 21 to show it when the tournament was in 22. so maybe instead of assuming off paper city’s steffen is better than new england’s turner, have them fight for it. and 2 years later turner is at arsenal and steffen’s in the championship.