From Balogun to Paredes - Meet the dual nationals USMNT must secure ahead of the 2026 World Cup
By and large, the U.S. men's national team has done pretty well when it comes to dual nationals, and a quick look at the World Cup squad shows it.
Yunus Musah and Sergino Dest turned down legitimate opportunities to play for England and the Netherlands, respectively. Jesus Ferreira was eligible for Colombia, while Antonee Robinson and Cameron Carter-Vickers also could have held out for an England chance. It's farfetched, but Christian Pulisic and Tim Weah also could have played for countries other than the USMNT.
To start the 2026 cycle, the USMNT already have a win under their belts, having sealed a commitment from Alejandro Zendejas. The Club America star rejoined the U.S. in January after previously featuring for El Tri and is now set to remain with the USMNT on the international level.
But, in this day and age, the recruiting battle never ends as there are always players out there deciding their international future.
From English-bred starlets to USMNT vs. Mexico battles, dual nationals could take centerstage on the road to the 2026 World Cup.
So here's a close look at some that could make an impact in this cycle and beyond...
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Balogun is the big one right now, and convincing him to play for the U.S. seems like a tall order.
The Arsenal loanee has been on fire for Reims in Ligue 1, where he's currently the league's top scorer. He's one goal ahead of Kylian Mbappe and Alexandre Lacazette, two goals ahead of Neymar and four goals ahead of Lionel Messi. Not bad, right?
Balogun fills a massive need for the USMNT, who remain in the hunt for a reliable striker. Thus far, though, he's played his age-group football exclusively for England, while he has also spoken of his desire to potentially represent Nigeria in recent months.
Both of those countries are pretty well-stocked in terms of No.9s already, however, and the USMNT would offer him the clearest path to potentially appearing at the 2026 World Cup.
Such a move would be massive for the U.S., who would then have their striker of the future.
The newest USMNT star to break out in the Bundesliga could, technically, decide not to play for the USMNT.
Paredes has started to contribute at Wolfsburg, where he's continued to develop as a versatile weapon anywhere down the left-hand side. That should be valuable to a U.S. team that has struggled to find depth at left-back, with no one really challenging Antonee Robinson for that role in years.
Paredes hasn't quite gotten to the USMNT level just yet, but has held conversations with former manager Gregg Berhalter in recent years. Technically, though, he is still eligible to represent the Dominican Republic, his parent's home country, should he choose to.
Seeing him give up a USMNT chance to play for an international minnow would be stunning, so expect Paredes to push for a U.S. place this cycle.
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This may well be Cowell's breakout year and, if it is, Mexico may need to make a push.
Cowell shined for the USMNT in January camp and has the abilities needed to be one of the next big exports to Europe. He's fast, athletic, direct and improving every day... what's not to love?
The U.S. seems to like Cowell and he'll likely get at least a few more chances this year depending on how he does in MLS with the San Jose Earthquakes. But Mexico does loom large, as they've already called-up his younger brother to their youth teams.
Thus far, Cowell has shown no interest in Mexico, and the U.S. will have to hope that doesn't change going forward.
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Another contender for the USMNT No.9 race, but also another player that could eventually choose to play elsewhere.
FC Cincinnati star Vazquez burst onto the scene with 18 MLS goals in 2022 and he got his USMNT career off to a memorable start with a goal in his first cap. He is still eligible for Mexico, though he hasn't had formal contact with the federation.
"For me, I try to do whatever is best for my career at the moment," he told GOAL in January. "It's hard to choose between both, but at the same time, I can't go wrong with either one. Both nations are one of the best in the world and I don't think I'll regret any decision I make with either, going with the U.S. or with Mexico.
"I have love for both and regardless of what decision I make, it won't change my feelings for the opposite one."
Gomez hasn't quite broken through at Real Sociedad, but it appears he may be close.
The ex-Louisville City defender made his big move to Spain in 2021 and has been a regular for the club's second team. A first-team debut could be coming soon for a full-back that had previously earned interest from plenty of top clubs.
Gomez has played for both the USMNT and Mexico at both youth and full international level, and made his first USMNT start in January camp, which could be a good sign for their hopes of keeping him around.
Raised in North Carolina, Isais is making waves in Liga MX with Pachuca. He's risen through the ranks in Mexico, establishing himself with the senior team in 2022, and his performances earned him a chance to train with Mexico's pre-World Cup squad,
Speaking to ESPN, Isais says he hasn't been in communication with U.S. Soccer, although that could change if he keeps improving with Pachuca.
"I'm not committed to anyone right now," he said. "I'm just focused on my club right now, doing things right. Whatever comes, I'll see what happens."
Nineteen-year-old midfielder McGlynn is a key member of the U.S. Under-20 national team and could very well feature at both the U20 World Cup this summer and next year's Olympics. Ireland, however, are reportedly sniffing around.
McGlynn is eligible to represent Ireland through his Dublin-born father, and reports over in Europe suggest that the Football Association of Ireland has reached out.
McGlynn has evolved into a key piece of the Union's homegrown army, which has also included Brenden and Paxten Aaronson as well as Mark McKenzie. Is he the next to play for the USMNT, or will the allure of playing for Ireland tempt him?
As he continues to find his way at PSV, the battle for Ledezma could start to heat up.
The 22-year-old midfielder still needs to break through more at club level after dealing with an ACL injury back in December 2020. PSV is a tough team to break into but, if healthy, Ledezma is technically good enough to do so.
Reports have said in the past that Mexico has been interested. He earned his first U.S. cap in November 2020, but is still eligible to switch to Mexico, who have reached out in the past.
Ledezma, meanwhile, hasn't closed the door, but a lot will depend on his development with his club.
Considering the fact that he's still just 17, Vargas has a lot of time to make his own decision, but it is a decision he'll likely have to make at some point.
The Mexican-American starlet from Alaska started to make waves last season for the Seattle Sounders in the CONCACAF Champions League before a back injury ruled him out for the final months of the season. He should be a regular contributor this season if healthy, though.
Despite his age, Vargas is very aware of how hard the process of choosing his international allegiance will be. “As a kid, or when I was younger, I always wanted to play for Mexico,” he said in 2022. “I always grew up watching Mexico but I’ve joined the MLS academy, they’ve given me an opportunity.
"I’ve gone to U.S. national team camps and they’ve really been confident in me. It’s kind of leveled out the playing field. I still don’t know. My heart is in two spaces right now.”
Born in Hartford, CT while his father, Eddie, worked for ESPN, the talented winger moved to Nottingham at age three and has remained there ever since, rising through the ranks of Nottingham Forest's academy.
He's made 56 appearances for his boyhood club two of which came in the Premier League this season before he was loaned to Sheffield Wednesday for more experience.
Internationally, the 20-year-old has played for England up to the U-20 level, but could still file a switch to play for the USMNT. Mighten, as it turns out, is close friends with Musah, who he played with on the youth level.
“I've been with him from the U-15s to the U-19s now," he told American Soccer Now back in 2021. "He's a great character, really good friend of mine. He's obviously a fantastic player...We've discussed our American heritage and things like that.”
Given the wing options currently in the player pool, that may never happen but, should he break out with Forest in the coming years, the U.S. could certainly take a closer look.
The USMNT's next top defender may be playing for Austria's biggest club.
Okoh was born in Houston, but grew up in Switzerland and, thus far, has represented the latter as a youth player.
A left-footed central defender, Okoh has been compared to another Red Bull product, current Bayern Munich star Dayot Upamecano, due to his pure dominance in defense. He's battle injuries in recent years, but those at Salzburg are still very high on the 19-year-old defender.
Convincing him to leave the Swiss system will be a tall order, though, especially considering their own consistency on the international level.
The young defender has to develop a bit on the club level first, but he could, theoretically, go several different ways on the international level.
Eligible for the U.S., Germany, Cameroon and Russia, Che has, thus far, been extremely committed to the U.S. program. He's played for the U.S. on the youth level and was called up to the senior team in 2021, although he didn't get his first cap.
“I’m still very young so I have a lot of time. I think as it stands right now, I don’t really have a primary choice. To me, the team that gives me the most opportunity and the team that embraces me and allows me to represent their country is the team that I’d choose,” Che told FCDallas.com back in 2021.
"It’s all about having a chance. If you don’t have a chance, you won’t be seen and no one will know your name. It’s about opportunity and having the pride to represent your country.”
Hoffenheim's hiring of American Pellegrino Matarazzo could lead to more first-team minutes for Che, which could put him into a bigger spotlight under the bright Bundesliga lights.