Dual national spotlight shines brightly on USMNT

While the USA has gone about its work of returning to official competition — it finishes up group play in the Concacaf Nations Cup on Monday against El Salvador in Orlando — speculation about the international future of 21-year-old forward Folarin Balogun has swirled.

The decision of the Reims star to withdraw from the England U-21 camp and fly to Orlando, where the USA began training last week, has only added to the drama.

The recruitment of dual nationals — players eligible to play for more than one national team either because of family ties, birthplace or residency — has become increasingly common around the world. Half of the 14 players Gregg Berhalter started at the 2022 World Cup were players who could have played for two or more countries.

In recent years, the USMNT snagged Sergino Dest (USA over the Netherlands), Yunus Musah (USA over England, Italy and Ghana), Ricardo Pepi (USA over Mexico), Malik Tillman (USA over Germany) and most recently Alex Zendejas (USA over Mexico). In Friday's 7-1 win at Grenada, Zendejas was one of three players along with Taylor Booth and Johnny Cardoso who came off the bench and were officially cap-tied.

Dest, Musah and Zendejas all played for the USMNT in friendlies before committing their international future. Pepi, who played for the USA at the 2019 U-17 World Cup, committed to the USA ahead of the start of World Cup 2022 qualifying, where he was the star in his first two appearances, the USA's first two wins after a pair of ties, with a combined three goals and two assists.

Because Balogun has played for England in UEFA age-group competitions, he can't play for the USMNT without filing a switch of association. He has not trained with the national team at its base camp at the ChampionsGate Sports Complex in Davenport, about 25 miles from Orlando, but he has definitely been out and about, being seen at an Orlando Magic NBA game and a New York Yankees spring training game in Tampa. At both stops, he was given team jerseys with his name on the back.

Such is the media attention to the Balogun recruitment that the process of handling dual nationals was the first question U.S. interim coach Anthony Hudson was asked about on Sunday ahead of the El Salvador game.

"I think it is a process involving everyone," he said, "starting with the coaching staff, all the way down to our youth national team guys because there's a history behind a lot of these players. Then involving people like [U.S. Soccer managing director of administration] Tom King making sure that we need to know administratively where we're at. And then from a coaching side, is this someone that can help us? And then it's making contact. And I think with certain players, it's important if we can — not every situation is the same — have someone experience the culture, the team, our players, how we do things, myself share programming, how we see that player fitting into what we're doing. These are all the things that certainly a player wants to see and feel and hear and just know that stuff so he can make an informed decision."

Dest, 22, and Musah, 20, both started for the USA at the 2022 World Cup. Dest committed to the USA in October 2019 and was cap-tied the next month in the Nations League. Musah was still 17 when he attended his first national team camp in November 2020 — he shared a table with World Cup captain Tyler Adams and Dest in camp at the height of the Covid-19 lockdown — committed to the USA in March 2021 but was not cap-tied until October 2021 when the MMA midfield — Weston McKennie, Musah and Adams — debuted in World Cup qualifying for home wins over Jamaica and Costa Rica.

"That brings back a lot of memories," Musah said of his decision two years ago to commit to the USA, "and it just makes me smile because I've had a wonderful time with the U.S. so far."

McKennie, Musah and Adams started all four games for the USA at the World Cup, where their play in the group stage drew praise from international experts.

"Being at the World Cup and playing the way I did," Musah said, "it was really, really nice. It was a great achievement for me. We felt like we could have done better than we did, but coming out of that felt really good."

Musah and Balogun share similar paths — Musah born in the Bronx to Ghanaian parents, Balogun born in Brooklyn to Nigerian parents, both raised in Europe, where they played in the Arsenal academy system.

"I haven't spoken to him much about it," Musah said of Balogun, who is older by 17 months. "But I'm sure if he wants any advice, he's gonna pop up to me and ask me how it's like making a decision because it's a tough decision to make to commit forever and everything. I'm sure if he wants any advice, he's gonna come chat to me, for sure."

USA vs. El Salvador

The USA will face El Salvador with a berth in the Concacaf Nations League finals on the line. The USA will head to Las Vegas in June with a win or tie. El Salvador will need to win Group D and reach the final four.

The USA is unbeaten in its last 21 games against El Salvador and has lost just once in 27 meetings — a 2-0 loss in a 1992 friendly -— but it struggled to break down Los Cuscatlecos in their last three meetings — 0-0 tie and 1-0 win in 2022 World Cup qualifying and 1-1 tie in San Salvador last June in the Concacaf Nations League.

The USA dominated El Salvador in the two World Cup qualifiers — finishing with an edge of 1.78 to 0.32 and 2.98 to 0.20 in expected goals — but managed just to score just one goal in the two matches — left back Antonee Robinson's goal in the 52nd minute of the second game in Columbus.

Robinson, who did not play in Friday's 7-1 win at Grenada, is one of what could be at least half a dozen changes in the U.S. lineup on Monday night. A new back four of Sergino Dest, Miles Robinson, Tim Ream and Antonee Robinson is expected to start along with Musah inserted in midfield. Less certain are changes, if any, in the attack.

"There's gonna be a few changes," said Hudson. "I think coming into camp, we had an eye on sort of pre-planned changes. I think one of the the best things, a luxury we have in windows like this is we have a very strong group. We have good depth, which allows us to be able to prepare for two games in a short time frame. And to be able to rotate, not wholesale changes, but to rotate in a way that we can at least get to the second game and have freshness in players and freshness without losing quality."

* * * * *

Concacaf Nations League (League A standings)
Group A. 1. *Mexico 8 points (8-3), 2. Jamaica 6, 3. Suriname 1.
Group B. 1. Panama 7 points (7-0), 2. Costa Rica 6 (4-3), 3. Martinique 1.
• Tuesday: Costa Rica vs. Panama.
Group C. 1. Canada 6 points (7-2), 2. Honduras 6 (4-3), 3. Curacao 3.
• Tuesday: Canada vs. Honduras.
Group D. 1. USA 7 points (13-2), 2. El Salvador 5 (5-4), 3. Grenada 1.
• Monday: USA vs. El Salvador.
*Qualified for Nations League semifinals June 15 in Las Vegas.
Note: The four group winners will advance to the semifinals, where they will be paired based on their performance in group play (1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3).

13 comments about "Dual national spotlight shines brightly on USMNT".
  1. Santiago 1314, March 27, 2023 at 10:36 a.m.

    "I think one of the the best things, a luxury we have in windows like this is we have a very strong group."
    BURP.!!! ... A.H. just throwing the MLSers and Ggg Selection Choices UNDER THE BUS.!!!
    LOVE IT.!!!
    If AH doesn't "Shut Up" and Keeps "Telling the Truth", I might have to go with HIM as Head Coach.!!!

  2. Chris Wasdyke replied, March 27, 2023 at 5:29 p.m.

    It's literally not throwing anyone under.  The hatred on this board for MLS and Gregg is crazy.  Thought I was on big soccer there for a moment.

    I think everyone was hoping the day would come out team is mostly or all euro based players.  I think even MLS realized that hence the whole becoming a seller's league.  How many kids on the team were in MLS academies though?!?? Hmm......

  3. Bob Ashpole, March 27, 2023 at 10:45 a.m.

    I wonder if this new direction is a sign that USSF will do less micromanaging or if this is a result of the vacancies in micro-management positions.

  4. Santiago 1314 replied, March 27, 2023 at 11:51 a.m.

    oh, That's Very Insightful, Bob...
    I venture to say it is More due to the "Power Vacuum"
    But, A.H. seems to be "Seizing the Moment"

    If he can Instill a "Forward" Looking Attitude and Approach in this Game,
    He might "WIN" the Players over, and End up as the Coach.
    (From Recent Readings, Somewhere.???... The Womens' Team got to "PICK" Vlatko)
    I would at Least give him the Team thru the Nations League Final, If, He Pulls something Wonderful out versus El Salvador.

    (Of Course, as I have Stated... I prefer an "American" Coach for WC26, Should be Someone, who can Put his Hand Over His Heart and Sing the US National Anthem ... Not that it Always has to be that way... Just when the USA is Hosting)
    {Leaning towards Curtain, Then Cherundolo}

  5. Santiago 1314, March 27, 2023 at 11:05 a.m.

    Going to be an Interesting Selection today:
    Go with Turbo or Go with Tiki-Taka.???
    Turbo Team is:
    CP                     Zendejas
        Musha  McKenNIE
    Jedi                     Reynolds
            Trusty MRob
    Tiki-Taka is;
    CP                     Zendejas
       Cardosa    McKenNIE
    Jedi                         Dest
           Ream MRob
    Seeing as we Havent Had ALL that much Success against El Salvdor with the Turbo...
    I say; Go with the Tiki-Taka.!!! 
    That is....If we REALLY want to have the World: "See USMNT Differently"
    Keep Some of these 3 Guys on a SHORT LEASH, if they don't Produce,, (45 Minutes)
    Reyna OUT, Pepi IN
    LDLT OUT, Aaronson IN
    Cardoso OUT, Musah IN
    Zendejas OUT, Booth IN (Minute 75)
    Dest OUT, Scally IN (Minute 80, if we are Ahead or Tied, If we are Behind-DIKE and go to a 3 Back)

  6. humble 1, March 27, 2023 at 11:10 a.m.

    There is the Stewart, McBride and Berhalter record, right there above.  They brought in all the internationals, they worked from a white sheet.  AH worked with Berhalter and is carry on his strategy, probably speaking with him, Stewart and McBride regularly.  These guys all want to see USA succeed.  Not throw darts.  I do not see where Hudson is 'throwing' Berhalter under the bus.  What he is doing is taking advantage of the fact that everyone has gloves off becuase he does not have the title.  SA did not even put his name Anthony Hudson in bold above.  No worries - our little text box is ancient, but it does have 'B' for bold button.  I got it.  At the moment - he's the man!  Have it! 

  7. Santiago 1314 replied, March 27, 2023 at 1:42 p.m.

    Humble... Sorry to Disagree with you.
    While Ggg/ES/McB can be Credited with Recruiting IN, Dest, Musha, Tillmman and Pepi.
    GGG did More Detriment than Good, by Leaving OFF Tillman and Pepi...

    Also, the Current Comments from the Team and A.H.'s stated Philosophy;
    Show, that they are Playing More; "Free", "Loose", "Liberated"..
    What has Changed since NOVEMBER.??? only 5 months ago... (No GGG.!!!)

    Outside of the "Let them Play" attitude of A.H. ... (Which I LIKE.!!!)
    I Venture to say, it is also due to NOT having the "Goon" Squad of OLDER MLS Players around,  Riding "Herd" over the Youngsters...
    (Do you disagree that that is why; Roldan, Long, Yedlin, Johnson, and to a Lesser Degree; Zimmerman, Acosta, Morris where Brought into the WC Squad.???)
    {GGG Could Have and SHOULD Have Re-Placed them with other u25s and it would have had ZERO impact on the Tournament, but a Big Impact on "Team Morale" and Future Development of the Team/Player Pool) [Mihailovic, EPB, Trusty, Steffen,,, McKenZIE, Cardoso, Tillman,}
    **What Dramatic "UP-Tick" has Occurred in the Last (5) Months with these 7 Players, that they are Good enough Now to be Included, but NOT last November.???** (Zero, Ziltch, Nada.!!!)
    (i don't know why EPB keeps getting Passed Over.???)

    Imagine: Going into the World Cup26 Cycle, With (25) u25 Players WITH WORLD CUP
    UN-HEARD OF.!!! (I'll Give you all Ream, for WC22, even though i have Stated, that his Inclusion was a Detriment to the Over-All Development of the Team)

  8. Bob Ashpole replied, March 27, 2023 at 1:55 p.m.

    You don't see the difference in how Hudson organized the team in the Grenada match? What I thouught was significant was the lineup. I was disappointed to see a 4231 until I saw who the two 6's were and that the back line also moved the ball well and with good tempo. Another significant difference was the shorter difference between the back line and the front line as well as effective use of the wide areas to open up space in the center.

    While they may talk the same talk, Hudson applied the talk better. I thought a key US problem under Gregg was the glacial tempo on the ball on the back line. I called it playing "in" the back. It is like trying to run with your shoes tied together. It appears that Hudson is addressing that problem. In four years Gregg didn't.

  9. Santiago 1314 replied, March 27, 2023 at 2:08 p.m.

    Bingo Bob, You are a Man on Fire.!!!

  10. Perry McIntyre, March 27, 2023 at 12:06 p.m.

    Balogun would be a huge get for USMNT, especially in light of the dearth of goal scoring forwards in the program. One of the secret weapons in AH's quote was the involvement of the quiet, uber-efficient, and affable Tom King, one of the program's most underrated, but valuable cogs.

  11. Santiago 1314 replied, March 27, 2023 at 2:06 p.m.

    Yes, Balogun would be a another NICE Problem to Have..
    We currently have the Problem of WHO SITs, so GIO can Play.???
    (Not to Mention, Who Sits, so Aaronson can Play.???)
    Without Balogun, i Currently Contend that; Sargent should Sit and we Play GIO as #10
          CP            Weah
    Jedi                  Dest
    IF Balogun comes; then what,,, Who Sits.???
    Weah, CP or Gio.???
    There IS a DRASTIC Solution that would Solve the Problem and REALLY Change the way the World Sees USMNT.!!!!

  12. Santiago 1314 replied, March 27, 2023 at 6:35 p.m.

    Drastic.??? (You want to Change the Way the World Sees USMNT.!?!?!?)
    Try this....

    ADAMS as a Sweeper. CCV as a Stopper

    CP                 Balogun
    Jedi                   Weah

    When Dest is IN,,, Weah can Play Lf.D for Jedi or Rt.F for Balogun
    Or Gio can Sit, and Aaronson Slides Up and Balogun plays as Ct.F
    Aaronson can Sit and Gio drops back a little against Weaker Teams; CP-Flo-Weah up Front.
    You are Probably Never going to have ALL 12 TOP Players Healthy at every Game, Anyway.

  13. R2 Dad replied, March 31, 2023 at 2:51 p.m.

    Santi, I wouldn't ber worried about who to sit. Gio, CP and Weah all have had health/injury issues. Someone will be recovering and only warrant substitution time as they build up to full fitness. But it's a nice problem to have. I'd still be trying to reconfigure the defense, which was run ragged by a NL team that wasn't that spectacular. We gave up easy goals around the 18 that any top 25 team would punish. Yes, the offensive side of the ball is looking better but we lost that knockout match because our defenders were outsmarted and out of position. How does that get fixed, playing CONCACAF teams (except MX and CA) where we have 70% possession?

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