While there are many players who are eligible to suit up for multiple countries, they are rarely given the opportunity to pursue all options, limited to the level of interest afforded by their talent. However, others are the subject of fierce recruiting battles as programs jockey for both short- and long-term commitment. Luca Warrick Koleosho has been fielding invitations from multiple nations for years, taking time to assess his comfort level and best fit. The 18-year-old winger recently finished a challenging season with RCD Espanyol that saw a personal breakthrough but ended in relegation.
Born in Norwalk, Connecticut, Koleosho competed with Trumbull United and Manhattan Kickers, displaying an ability to “pick up elements of the game way faster than other kids” and honing his skills with futsal. Turning down an opportunity with the New York Red Bulls, he moved to Spain without his family, spending several years in the youth setup of now-defunct CF Reus Deportiu and playing with Technifutbol before joining the Espanyol academy. His experiences involved the unique adjustment process of learning both the Spanish and Catalan languages while living in a dorm with his teammates. The Periquitos (Parakeets) signed him to a professional contract in June of 2021 on a three-year deal and began including him in first-team training.
“When I first got there and I was able to train with the professionals for the first time, I had to get used to the speed of play, which is much different,” Koleosho told American Soccer Now. “And all those guys there are really experienced. You have to just get used to how they play. Also, you have to stay confident in what you do because the reason you got there is because of how you performed, and you just have to keep doing it. Most of the guys in there, they are all good people, and they all help me out. They’ll talk to me, tell me what I have to do, what I can improve on, and how to do everything the right way.”
In his first year, Koleosho played in two matches with the reserves. He also received his first-team debut, making a cameo appearance in the final fixture of the La Liga schedule, a 0-0 draw with Granada. Additionally, his contributions aided the U-19 squad in the run to the final of the Copa del Rey Juvenil.
This past season, Koleosho appeared in the first two La Liga fixtures, coming off the bench. He continued to make the match-day squad and featured in the round of 16 of the Copa del Rey but mostly contributed to the reserves, playing in 12 matches and scoring two goals. His return to the senior squad came in May, seeing the field for six minutes in a 4-2 to loss to Barcelona. On the final day of the schedule, the teenaged attacker found the back of the net in a 3-3 draw with UD Almería, a daring run from the wing that displayed his devastating combination of explosive athleticism and technique.
Espanyol finished at 19th place in the La Liga table with 37 points from 38 matches and will spend next season in the Segunda División, an opportunity for the teenager to receive increased playing time. Whether he remains in Barcelona remains to be seen as “many clubs, in Spain and beyond, have moved for him and are following closely.” An early report lists PSV Eindhoven, Fiorentina, and an unnamed Italian suitor as “keeping an eye” on him and his contract which will expire in a year.
At the international level, Koleosho is eligible to play for the USMNT, Canada, Italy, and Nigeria. He competed with his birth nation at the U-15 and U-20 levels, describing his time as “really good experience.” Gli Azzurri (The Blues) added him to the U-19 side during March’s UEFA European Under-19 Championship qualifiers (a “really good opportunity that [he] had to take”), playing two matches, and to a recent training group in advance of this summer’s final competition.
Despite keeping his options open, Canada appears to be pushing the hardest for his international future. John Herdman named him to the senior team in June of 2022 for a friendly and two CONCACAF Nations League fixtures, but Koleosho departed camp after the former’s cancellation. He was again with the group the following September but failed to make an appearance. Recently, the program included him on the preliminary roster for the 2023 Nations League Finals.
Koleosho is primarily deployed as an inverted winger who can also line up at forward, displaying a level of speed that allows him to “blow past defenders with the ball.” He is constantly buzzing up and down the field, tracking back to chase down opponents and getting behind the back line. His traditional movement in possession is to make darting dribbling runs toward the center of the formation, looking to slip a pass to a teammate or launch a shot on goal.
“Luca is an attack minded winger that has loads of pace,” wrote Marcus Chairez for Chasing a Cup. “He is a strong and compact player that has good balance through contact and a very aggressive style. He isn’t a super creative ball manipulator, but more of a player that takes good angles and smart touches to beat his defender. Like most young wingers, Luca’s biggest area of improvement is his final product. He does well to beat defenders, but oftentimes his final pass or final strike can leave you wanting.”
Koleosho has yet to make a decision on his international future, appearing to be taking the process slowly. There is no rush to commit as his star is on the rise and programs have little incentive to force his hand. While Espanyol’s relegation will have a negative impact on the club, the drop to a lower league could present him with the opportunity for more first-team minutes and aid in his long-term development. The young winger has a lot of time ahead, with plenty of options at all levels for club and country.