Primary Position: Striker
Secondary Position: Left-Winger
Club: Middlesbrough on loan from Arsenal
Loan Contract Expires: May 31, 2022
Arsenal Contract Expires: June 30, 2025
Market Value: 4.4M
Folarin Balogun is eligible to play for England, Nigeria and the United States. He was born in New York City, NY. Flo is an Arsenal Academy product through and through. He has been in the Gunner’s project since 2011 and has made his way up through the system. He’s technically still contracted by the U23 reserve team, but has made some appearances for the first team this year. He was loaned in January 2022 to Championship side, Middlesbrough, after proving to be beyond the U23 level, but not quite ready for premier league competition. The Championship has proven to be the right level for his development at this time.
Senior Club History
Middlesbrough (The Championship, England 2nd Tier)
12 appearances / 1 goals / 2 assists
2020 – 2021
Arsenal (Premier League, England 1st Tier)
10 appearances / 2 goals / 1 assists
Flo has represented England 19 times across the U17, U18, U20 and U21 levels with his most recent appearance in an International Friendly on November 16, 2021.
He has also represented the USA at the U18 level in a set of friendlies in August of 2018.
It’s been reported recently that Folarin is now strongly considering switching his affiliation to the US. This news comes as a bit of a surprise as most have thought that he’d wait until we were closer to World Cup 2026 before making a permanent decision. It’s possible that Gregg is pitching him hard given the current uncertainty at the USMNT striker position.
Physical Profile (75 / 100)
Flo is an undersized striker that profiles better in a two-striker system or out on the wing. He’s not a true target #9 that is going to win a lot of balls in the air (16.7% win rate this season) or succeed in hold up play. In fact, his hold up play is very concerning. I don’t think it’s a lack of strength, but more of a technical flaw, which we’ll touch on next.
I do think there is room for him to get stronger, it would help him be a little more ball secure, in duels and it would help him gain leverage and positioning in the box.
His strengths as an athlete are his quickness and speed. He’s very explosive and has good change of direction ability which helps him beat players 1v1, evade defenders in the box, and serves as an asset in the press.
Technical Profile (75 / 100)
There are aspects of Flo’s game that are very skillful and technical and there are areas that have a lot of room for growth. Let’s start with the positives. Flo has shown some really brilliant moments attacking players 1v1 and executing very creative and technical passes to set up his teammates. His one touch passing can be very, very good at times.
Check this out:
The two areas that need development are his striking ability, both with his head and his feet and his ability to secure the ball in hold up play. I think that both are footwork issues. The good news is that he gets himself in really good positions, the bad news is that his striking can be erratic at times. I have seen many high quality looks go astray. The concerning thing is that it’s not a matter of not finding the right place on goal, but a matter of too often missing the target.
The hold up play issue is potentially fixable. His technique is all out of whack. He needs to establish position and leverage on the defender earlier and stop letting the ball get so close into his feet before his first touch. These two things happen way too often which leads to way too many turnovers. That is reflected in his very low ground duel win rate.
Cerebral Profile (80 / 100)
Flo shows signs of being a really intelligent footballer. One of his traits that pops out to me when I watch him is his constant movement in and around the box. He frequently finds pockets of space in dangerous areas. I am tempted to say he’s more of a winger than a striker, but his movement and passing ability is really intriguing, especially in Gregg Berhalter’s system.
From a tenacity and effort perspective, I don’t see anything out of this world like Aaronson, Sargent and Arriola, but there is nothing to be concerned about. He is willing in the press, he works hard off of the ball and shows signs of toughness.
I love his creativity and bravery to try things. He’s a quick thinker, and as mentioned above, he’ll do some things with the ball that are very impressive.
I don’t have access to the same type of comparative data from FB Ref for Championship players, so I’ve gone a different route in exploring the data. Here are some key metrics from his senior team minutes with Arsenal and Middlesbrough this year:
Shots on target success rate: 45%
Dribbles success rate: 53.2%
Ground duel success rate: 30.5%
Aerial duel success rate: 16.7%
Statistical Comparison vs other USMNT Strikers
As always, remember that you need to take into account the level of the club, level of competition and the role the player is being asked to play.
Jesus Ferreira in 2021
Shots on target success rate: 42.9%
Dribbles success rate: 53.7%
Ground duel success rate: 47.4%
Aerial duel success rate: 7.7%
Ricardo Pepi in 2021
Shots on target success rate: 51.4%
Dribbles success rate: 44.4%
Ground duel success rate: 33.8%
Aerial duel success rate: 22.6%
Jordan Pefok in 2021/2022
Shots on target success rate: 39.8%
Dribbles success rate: 33.3%
Ground duel success rate: 39.3%
Aerial duel success rate: 53.3%
Gyasi Zardes in 2021
Shots on target success rate: 56.3%
Dribbles success rate: 33.3%
Ground duel success rate: 37.5%
Aerial duel success rate: 45.1%
Josh Sargent in 2021/2022
Shots on target success rate: 38.3%
Dribbles success rate: 52.4%
Ground duel success rate: 42.7%
Aerial duel success rate: 42.9%
Flo is the least prolific goal scorer compared to the other striker’s data in the most recent seasons, but he’s faced the toughest competition between the Premier League and The Championship. He’s on the lower end of expected goals as well.
His shots per 90 are solid in comparison with the others and his shots on target % is much better than what I would have expected. I am probably holding on to a couple of big chances that were missed, and over dramatizing a perceived striking issue.
As I expected, he has better passing and dribbling stats than most, aside from Jesus Ferreira. He has the lowest ground duel win rate, which speaks to his challenges in hold up play and aside from Jesus, he is the least effective in the air.
USMNT System Fit
Folarin Balogun profiles similarly to Jesus Ferreira and I think that is why Gregg is pursuing him aggressively. Jesus is the type of striker that Gregg wants in his quest to disorganize and breakdown defenses.
Flo is a player that you want in a game where you are going to be pressing, counter-pressing and holding a lot of possession. He has the ability to find spaces and find teammates in good positions. His creativity would be a huge asset in breaking down low blocks.
He is not a striker that would be effective in a more direct system that relies on aerial service into the box. He is not a target striker.
He can also play on the wing and I think his style of play fits well with what Gregg asks of wingers. That versatility is a huge value when building squads.
USMNT STRIKER OUTLOOK
It’s no secret, the striker position is the biggest question mark in the USMNT pool. There are a lot of guys in the metaphorical hat and none of them have taken hold of the job. Flo would be another player to throw in the hat that fits what Gregg wants to do.
I really didn’t think we’d have an opportunity to switch Balogun for a couple of years, but maybe Gregg is pitching a big opportunity and Balogun is buying it. It likely helps to see the success and appreciation that other English-Americans are having (Jedi Robinson, Yunus Musah). And let’s be real, he’s a long ways away from cracking the Three Lions senior team.
My take, the more lottery tickets the better, especially at striker. He’s very talented, he just has limited experience with senior teams and struggles, like most young players do, to deliver consistent performances.
I really like his fit in our current system and I would love to see him with USMNT this summer at the Nations League group matches. That would be a great setting to get to know the staff, the players and a lower risk competition to get integrated and acclimated.