LAS VEGAS — United States interim manager B.J. Callaghan said he likes what he’s seen out of new arrival Folarin Balogun, but declined to say whether the Arsenal forward would start in Thursday’s Concacaf Nations League semifinal against Mexico.
Balogun, 21, pledged his international future to the U.S. last month, having been also eligible to represent England and Nigeria. Given that he scored 22 goals in 39 league and cup appearances while on loan at Ligue 1 side Stade de Reims this season, expectations are immense that Balogun will provide exactly the goalscoring threat that the U.S. team needs.
And Callaghan indicated that, so far, Balogun had made a strong first impression.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations with him prior to coming into camp, sort of setting the expectations,” Callaghan said about Balogun at Wednesday’s pregame news conference. “I can tell you that he’s been welcomed [with] open arms from the group. He’s integrated himself great into the group on the field.
“I think the things that you see him do at his club that made him have such a great season this season are the same things that we’re seeing him pick up when he comes into our environment. So again, a great first 10 days for him, but I also want to emphasize that it’s just the first days of what we hope is a long national team career for ‘Balo’.”
Callaghan is the second interim manager that has had to step into the U.S. team in the last six months. Anthony Hudson succeeded Gregg Berhalter on an interim basis after Berhalter’s contract wasn’t renewed at the end of 2022.
Hudson managed the U.S. for five games, but then left to take the managerial post with Qatari side Al-Markhiya. Despite the turnover, Callaghan, who has been on the U.S. staff since 2019, hopes the familiarity that exists between him and the team will help carry the side on Thursday.
“I feel like we have such a close group that have been together for a long period of time. A large majority of these guys have been with us and we’ve been with them for over four years,” Callaghan said. “So I think it’s been pretty status quo and operating as normal.
“Of course, I’m up front and having to make final decisions. But I think the culture that we’ve built and the ownership that everyone takes in this environment in terms of the brotherhood and the preparation, it’s all just been sort of a shared load and I couldn’t be happier with the way the preparation has gone, the ownership that the team and the staff have taken.”
For Callaghan, matching up against Mexico amounts to a pressure-packed initial foray into management, especially given the recent success that the U.S. has had against El Tri, claiming two titles with the 2021 Nations League and Gold Cup and going unbeaten in the last five encounters.
But the U.S. interim coach stressed that these are the types of games that everyone wants to take part in.
“We have the ambition to try to perform against the highest levels of international football,” Callaghan said. “And as we look down the line to 2026, games like this of high intensity, high stakes, rivalry type, knockout type games, these are the moments that we want to prove to ourselves that we can handle, that we can prepare for, and that we can perform well in.
“Specifically to Mexico, we have a great respect for them and we do understand that there’s a rivalry and the rivalry can ebb and flow with results, but that never changes the way that we approach an opponent of their caliber.”
USA striker Folarin Balogun fitting in quickly, coach says