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USA holding U-20 World Cup spot for Gedion Zelalem, waiting on FIFA

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The United States wants Gedion Zelalem to play at the U-20 World Cup. They're just waiting on FIFA to grant Zelalem approval to play for them and hoping that they do so before the May 15 roster deadline.

When Tab Ramos named the roster for the U-20 World Cup on Thursday, Zelalem's name was notably absent. That's because Zelalem has not been cleared to play for the U.S. yet. But Ramos' roster only included 20 players, not the full 21 allowed for the tournament. That is because he is holding a spot for Zelalem.

Zelalem is an American citizen, but has not lived in the U.S. for five years since turning 18, as FIFA rules requires for naturalized citizens. It would be impossible for him to fulfill that requirement, being only 18 years old now, but his situation also doesn't violate the spirit of FIFA's rule.

The rule is in place to keep players from hopping to a country solely in search of citizenship to play for the national team, but Zelalem moved to the U.S. with his father as a child, long before he was a soccer prospect. The move to the U.S. and pursuit of citizenship was put in motion long before his playing for the national team was even considered, so U.S. Soccer appealed to FIFA for Zelalem to be granted immediate eligibility. They are confident FIFA will accept their appeal, but the organizing body has not done so yet.

FIFA has acknowledged that they have received the appeal and are processing it. But it is still unclear when the paperwork will be finalized and Zelalem will be allowed to play for the U.S. That is problematic because the Americans have to submit their final U-20 World Cup roster by May 15, so FIFA needs to give him the all-clear by then if he's going to play in the tournament.

Zelalem would immediately become the Americans' best player if he's cleared and joins the U-20 roster. He's a star in the Arsenal academy and has already played for their senior team. Putting him in the midfield with Emerson Hyndman, one of the Americans' other best players, would give the U.S. more talent in the center of the park than they have ever had at the U-20 level.

If Zelalem is not cleared by May 15, most people expect Ramos to add Zach Pfeffer to the roster. Pfeffer plays for the Philadelphia Union and has been a part of the U-20 set-up all cycle, but has been a fringe player.