USMNT players Folarin Balogun, Auston Trusty face uncertain futures with Arsenal
The U.S. internationals are talented but have found opportunities limited with the London soccer club
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The humbling reality of being just an afterthought for one of the world’s elite soccer clubs is a current status shared by both Folarin Balogun and Auston Trusty. They each received another example of that Saturday by playing the same amount of time as the 82,000 fans in attendance at MetLife Stadium.
Zero minutes, zero seconds.
Despite being members of the U.S. men’s national team and both coming off career best seasons, Balogun and Trusty weren’t given any home nation favors in the Gunners’ 2-0 preseason defeat of one of their bitter Premier League rivals, Manchester United. It shouldn’t come as any surprise to each player. Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta does not care about individual feelings over what he thinks is best for the team.
Balogun and Trusty are coming off confidence-boosting seasons away from Arsenal, with Balogun on loan to Reims and Trusty on loan to Birmingham City. Their return to the prominent North London club this preseason could culminate in it being their last one with the Gunners.
After the joy of participating in the festivities of the MLS All-Star week in Washington, the two outfield representatives of an unprecedented three American players in Arsenal’s current first-team squad (the third is, of course, backup goalkeeper and current U.S. No. 1 Matt Turner) witnessed another episode in which they must ask themselves how many more days will they be a part of this formidable unit.
Balogun and Trusty played 25 minutes and 10 minutes, respectively, off the bench against the MLS All-Stars in Arsenal’s 5-0 win in the MLS All-Star Game on July 19. It was understandable then how neither player was in a mood to discuss his current predicament after not playing against Manchester United.
Unlike the press obligation rules that athletes have to abide by in the NBA, the NFL, the NHL and MLB, European soccer has no system in place for mandating players to be available for interview requests. The media “mixed zone” is largely an invisible pathway for players to exit the stadium as quickly as possible and get on the team bus if they are away from their home ground. And that sense of not halting for any questions from reporters was exacerbated by the intense Arteta being unyielding about the team bus leaving on time for their flight across the country to Los Angeles on the next stop in their preseason U.S. tour.
Trusty did not stop to take questions in the mixed zone but was in an informal mood with a teammate while walking by. Balogun was at least entertained by me mentioning his group sing-along of rapper Meek Mill’s “Dreams and Nightmares” with midfielder Weston McKennie, defender Chris Richards and other team members after their Concacaf Nations League title in June. Balogun, a former England youth player, could only chuckle when he was asked if his recruitment by the Orlando Magic to choose the U.S. over England for his international team made Paolo Banchero & Co. his favorite basketball team. But a rush to not be late on Arteta’s bus was the only real priority on their minds.
Balogun did however reiterate his desire to stay with his boyhood club.
“I stay ready, I always stay ready,” he said. “That’s the aim for me, I want to play as well. We got to see what happens.”
Of the two situations, Trusty’s chances to stick around at Arsenal and receive significant playing time this season seem very unlikely.
The Pennsylvania native’s terrific, temporary time in England’s second division saw him earn the Player of the Season award with respected club Birmingham City in May. But all of that positive play for Trusty could only result in securing a preseason trip with Arsenal back to his homeland.
Despite versatility with his feet that enables him to play all four defensive positions, Trusty has the stiffest competition for time at all those spots: New signing Jurrien Timber and Ben White at right-back, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Kieran Tierney and Oleksandr Zinchenko at left-back, and William Saliba, Gabriel, Jakub Kiwior and Rob Holding at centre-back. Barring an unforeseen number of events, another loan move for Trusty is as certain this season as Arsenal wearing the team’s color red.
Also a favorite to leave is Balogun, although his chance of remaining at Arsenal is suddenly not an impossibility. With his terrific 21-goal season at 21 years old in Ligue 1, Balogun at least has made himself a valuable commodity for Arteta and club sporting director Edu. They now reportedly value Balogun at a whopping $64 million, a price that Italian power Inter Milan did not agree with in its reported interest for the pacy forward. But Arsenal fans have wondered for months now, while Balogun was tearing up French teams’ defenses, if he and not Eddie Nketiah is the better choice to be Gabriel Jesus’ backup striker.
It seemed Arteta effectively chose Nketiah over Balogun as Jesus’ understudy when the club decided to give the Lewisham, London, native a long-term contract last June, while Balogun was loaned to Reims after a disappointing five-month spell with Middlesbrough. But while Nketiah was mostly a bench player in Arsenal’s runner-up Premier League campaign in 2022-23, Balogun grew exponentially with Reims to become one of the best young forwards in the world.
A foregone conclusion as to who would be in Arteta’s forward plans behind Jesus was thrown some more uncertainty at the Meadowlands. The 24-year-old Nketiah was not a discernible threat to score against United. It resulted in Arteta indicating in the postgame news conference that he would give those who did not play at MetLife, such as Balogun and Trusty, a big opportunity to go against Barcelona at SoFi Stadium on Wednesday (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+).
“We had some options up front as well and we wanted to load [rest] some players,” Arteta said. “That’s why some players today didn’t have any exposure, but they will in the next game.”
Regardless of how both situations end, it is vital for both Balogun and Trusty to be with a team that provides them significant minutes and stability this season, whether it is at Arsenal or somewhere else. Their positional rivals on the U.S. team have their club situations for this season sorted out (Balogun has to hold off Ricardo Pepi of PSV Eindhoven for the No. 1 forward role and Trusty has to surpass Chris Richards of Crystal Palace among many U.S. defenders ahead of him in manager Gregg Berhalter’s depth chart).
Now with half of the summer over, Balogun and Trusty will need a resolution ASAP to not have their careers regress.