'What took you so long?' - USMNT newcomer Folarin Balogun on why decision was a 'no-brainer', his family's reaction and how Instagram commenters aided decision

Folarin Balogun celebrate Reims 2022-23
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The newly-committed striker discussed his decision to join the USMNT after officially making the switch on Tuesday.

In the end, the decision wasn't much of a decision at all. Despite the circus that has gone on for the last few months, Folarin Balogun knew, deep down, what he wanted. The choice to represent the U.S. men's national team was made official on Tuesday and, in Balogun's own words, it was always a "no-brainer".

FIFA and U.S. Soccer confirmed that Balogun has committed to the USMNT and is eligible to make his debut for the team as soon as next summer. With that commitment, the recruiting battle has come to an end, with the U.S. ultimately having their hand raised over England and Nigeria.

The decision to commit to a national team is a deeply personal one. Balogun, who was born in New York to Nigerian parents and raised in England, opted for the country of his birth, and the country that gave him the most clear path to success. Balogun immediately becomes the USMNT's starting striker on the road to the 2026 World Cup on home soil, another selling point for the young star.

Many in American soccer worked to convince him, from interim coach Anthony Hudson to former teammate Yunus Musah. But perhaps the biggest influence of all was the American soccer public, which made sure Balogun received a warmer welcome than he ever could have imagined.

The USMNT striker opened up on his decision in an interview with U.S. Soccer, detailing his family's reaction, his own feelings and why he never could have prepared for the chaos of American Soccer Instagram.

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  1. 'What took you so long?'
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    'What took you so long?'

    Dual-nationals face decisions that are tougher than many realize. They are forced to choose between different parts of themselves in moves that not only impact them, but the people around them. Some opt for where they were raised, some go for where they were born, some play for their parents' homeland but, no matter the choice, someone ends up on the wrong side of it all.

    For Balogun, though, there was nothing but support, especially his mother.

    Born in New York to Nigerian parents, Balogun's family moved to England when he was just two years old. Until recently, he had represented England almost exclusively on the youth level, save for a few appearances for U.S. youth teams. As his career exploded in Ligue 1, he became faced with a decision: U.S., England or Nigeria.

    Upon deciding on the U.S., and, in the process, turning down England and Nigeria, Balogun was asked only one question by his mother: why he took so damn look to make what seemed like an obvious choice.

    "When I broke the news to my family they were all just over the moon, especially my mom," Balogun said. "She said, ‘What took you so long?’, so for sure we were all on the same page. Then after that conversation, I just sent the message across to my agent and said ‘Let’s make it happen.’"

    He added: "My decision to represent the United States, it came together with my 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, but for sure, it’s just something I wanted to do and it feels like I’m at home here.”

  2. Looking back, and forward, to the World Cup

    Looking back, and forward, to the World Cup

    Balogun, like many all over the world, watched the USMNT at the World Cup this summer, and it's safe to say he liked what he saw.

    “I think we all saw them at the World Cup," he said. "It’s a really young, energetic squad and for sure the potential of the squad is amazing, so definitely with me coming into it I think I can add my qualities and it will really come through in the next few years.”

    In Qatar, the U.S. went toe-to-toe with England, the other country vying for the striker's allegiance. In what was a cagey, back-and-forth affair, the two sides played to a 0-0 draw, with both ultimately advancing to the knockout rounds.

    From the moment the U.S. were knocked out by the Netherlands in the round of 16, the focus shifted to the 2026 World Cup, which will be held in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Getting the chance to play at a home World Cup is something Balogun is very much looking forward to as he now has three years to acclimate himself to his team.

    “It’s almost too good to be true," the striker said. "To have the World Cup in America is just crazy and then to be the host nation and my first World Cup, it’s all come together nicely. Some things are just meant to be.”

  3. The Instagram flood

    The Instagram flood

    If you are one of the USMNT fans responsible for flooding Balogun's social media posts over the last few months, take comfort in the fact that you played a part in this.

    For months, anything Balogun posted was immediately overwhelmed with American fans in the comments, with bald eagles and American flags dominating the discourse. The saga truly began when Instagram sleuths discovered that Balogun was in Orlando during USMNT camp, sending American soccer into a frenzy.

    “I think that’s when I really saw the full force of the U.S. fans," Balogun said. "I was there and I just posted a photo with my friends thinking that it was just a holiday picture. Before I knew it, I just saw loads of comments and people knew I was in America, and I just really felt the love from there. There’s been a lot of build up, so I’ve obviously seen people saying that I should choose to represent the U.S. and it’s just something I’m really happy that I’ve decided to do.”

    In the weeks since that trip, the support hasn't died down as American fans have gone all-out to show Balogun love.

    "To be honest I was a bit overwhelmed," he added. "I knew the U.S. was obviously a big country, but I didn’t realize how many people were involved in soccer, especially every time I went on social media I was seeing loads of comments with people saying I should choose to represent the U.S. It’s nice to feel that appreciation for sure.” 

    On the flip side of that, though, is Balogun's own cryptic message to England after missing out on its March squad. While not confirmed, Balogun's Instagram post shortly after, "Go where you are wanted", was seen by many as a shot at England and Gareth Southgate after he was ignored in favor of other striker options.

    In the end, the U.S. support was enough to convince him, so at least some credit will have to go to the USMNT fans that took this recruiting battle into their own hands.

  4. Conversations with Hudson
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    Conversations with Hudson

    Anthony Hudson's time in charge of the USMNT on an interim basis will likely come to an end soon. It will go down as a success on the field thanks to some solid wins.

    Hudson's tenure, though, will be most remembered for this particular moment, the one where he helped convince the team's striker of the future to join the squad.

    Throughout the process, Hudson said he had good conversations with Balogun. He wasn't trying to convince him of anything, he said, but was instead just showing him the program, how it worked and what he could be a part of.

    The conversations I had with the coach were very brief," Balogun said. "We spoke numerous times, but he was just obviously telling me about the plan and how much he wants me to join the team. Of course, I just told him that I was keen and I understood the project. It was just a matter of when.”

    In the end, it worked. Hudson played his role to perfection.

  5. A Nations League debut

    A Nations League debut

    The USMNT fans that dominated Balogun's social media posts won't have to wait long to see him in his new colors.

    Balogun is expected to make his USMNT debut in the upcoming Nations League semifinals in Las Vegas, where the USMNT will face rivals Mexico. The Stars and Stripes will then take on either Canada or Panama in the final or third-place game before turning their focus toward the Gold Cup.

    A debut against Mexico is a big stage for any player, let alone someone like Balogun, who has been under the microscope for the better part of 2023. But he's very much looking forward to getting right into it with his new team against their biggest rival.

    It’s amazing. I like to play big games and it’s something that every young player should be aspiring to do," he said of that clash with El Tri. "Having the opportunity to play against Mexico in a rivalry match would be amazing and hopefully I can make a difference.” 

    He continued: 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. 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.”