Gedion Zelalem is a United States citizen. The Washington Post confirmed that the 17-year-old Arsenal player was in Washington, D.C. on Monday to finalize things and will be eligible to play for the U.S. as soon as he receives a passport and gets FIFA approval, both of which are a given.
Zelalem is one of the most highly touted youngsters in the Arsenal system and immediately becomes one of the best prospects that the U.S. has. He was born in Germany, but moved to the U.S. at the age of nine and even played with the Americans' U-15 team. It was while a teenager in the Washington, D.C. area that he was spotted by an Arsenal scout, who recommended the Gunners bring him into the academy, which they did.
Several reports indicated that Zelalem identified as an American and wanted to play for the American team, but he couldn't until he had citizenship, so he suited up for the Germany U-15, U-16 and U-17 teams. Now that he has citizenship, he can play for the Stars and Stripes and the Washington Post report confirmed that he plans to switch to the U.S.
There was some concern that Zelalem would not get U.S. citizenship. He qualified for it through his father, who became a citizen earlier in the year, but he could only obtain citizenship via his father as long as he was a minor. With Zelalem's 18th birthday coming up on January 26, he was running out of time, but with less than a month to spare, he got it.
Zelalem has been a standout for the Arsenal youth team and was so impressive that he got his first appearance for the senior team earlier this year at the age of 16. He followed that up with a Champions League cameo earlier this month.
By no means is Zelalem a full-fledged first team member with the Gunners. He has yet to play in a Premier League match and has only been named to the bench three times this season, but there is no doubt that he is a tantalizing young player that the Gunners have big hopes for.
Zelalem is a central midfielder who has been praised for his technical ability, creativity and vision. Luckily for the U.S., that type of player is both what they have lacked and what Jurgen Klinsmann has longed for. He has tried a number of players in creative roles, but none have quite stuck and the experiment with Michael Bradley so far forward at the World Cup was a reminder of just how few options the U.S. has. Hopefully, Zelalem grows and develops into the creative player that Klinsmann has been searching for since he took over, and the U.S. has desired for even longer.
The first time Zelalem could conceivably play for the U.S. will be in March, when the Americans will play a pair of friendlies in Europe. It's unclear whether Klinsmann will bring Zelalem in right away considering his lack of first team action with Arsenal, but that didn't dissuade Klinsmann from giving Julian Green a look and Jordan Morris was called in despite not even being a professional.
In the short-term, Zelalem will be a much bigger part of the U.S. U-23 team that will try to qualify for the 2016 Olympics. There, fans may get a look at the exciting young midfielder, and a glimpse of why Arsenal and the U.S. are so high on him, but the expectations in the long-term will be much, much bigger.
Fairly or unfairly, Zelalem became one of the next great hopes for the U.S. as soon as he got his citizenship, and that means shining for the senior team in major competitions once he grows up a little bit. Hopefully he makes good on that promise.