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How Folarin Balogun Changes U.S. Expectations
With the decision by Folarin Balogun to opt for the U.S. Men's National team, the program's ceiling increases significantly. There is now a legitimate chance for a deep World Cup run because, for the first time, the U.S. might have a world-class player on their hands.
Before Balogun's decision, I was fairly skeptical of the assumption that since the U.S. had the second youngest squad at the 2022 World Cup and met expectations, they would advance further in the 2026 World Cup. My skepticism came from the simple fact that I could not see any of the players in the U.S. player pool developing into one of the best in the world, something that is essential to a deep World Cup run.
No one makes a run to the final eight of the World Cup without having a world-class talent, a player considered among the top five in their position.
History shows us that, when it comes to the World Cup, it doesn't matter how deep a team's talent pool is, at the end of the day, you need at least one player who is among the best in their position. I'll give you a few examples.
Here's a trivia question for you. Who is the only CONCACAF nation to reach the quarter-final of the World Cup in the last 20 years?
It's not Mexico, and it's not the United States. The answer is Costa Rica.
In 2014, led by Keylor Navas, one of the greatest goalkeepers of his generation, Costa Rica conceded just two goals in five games, the fewest of any nation, and did not lose a single game in regulation. That Costa Rica squad had more players playing in the MLS (3) than in the Big-5 leagues (2). Yet, it started by winning a group where it was supposed to be the doormat in a group of death containing three tournament favorites in Uruguay, England, and Italy. Navas, a world-class talent, who went on to star in Real Madrid's Champions League three-peat, made all the difference with a string of incredible performances.
Look at Croatia, a team of good but not great players, spearheaded by Luka Modric, arguably the best midfielder ever, reaching a Final and another third-place finish.
The point is, it does no good to have good players if you don't have a member of your team that is a genuine world-class talent. Folarin Balogun, still 21 years old, has the potential to develop into one of the best strikers in the game. And if he can get there by 2026, the U.S. has the depth needed to advance past the round-of-16.
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