United States U-20 head coach Tab Ramos said in a teleconference on Tuesday that he expects Gedion Zelalem to be an integral part of his side as they look to make a deep run at the World Cup in South Korea. Ramos named his 21-man roster for the tournament and the Arsenal-owned midfielder was a hot-button topic for discussion when reviewing the final choices.
Zelalem joins the team after missing the CONCACAF Championship in March, a tournament the team won with a lot of the players called up for the World Cup. Ramos believes that the 20-year-old will go a long ways to making that group even better and dynamic than it was a few months ago.
“He's a great possession player. We definitely have to get him to make the game-winning type of plays,” Ramos said. “We're going to rely on him a lot. He needs to be one of our leaders. We expressed that to him. So he has to be one of the ones who makes a difference for us.”
Most who follow U.S. Soccer and even some within the organization expected big things from Zelalem as soon as he committed his international future to the USA. However, his club career has been stalled of late with a couple of loan stints in Scotland and the Netherlands that didn’t do much to further his chances with Arsenal. Even Ramos admitted that he expected more from the Berlin-born youngster.
“I would have hoped that his career would be more advanced,” Ramos said. “Two years ago he was already at Arsenal and he had already gotten a few opportunities with the first team and here we are two years later and we're looking at the same type of scenario. But, I think after this World Cup he'll likely make a move —that's my feeling — to playing first team soccer somewhere in Europe.”
Most recently, Zelalem has struggled for playing time at VVV-Venlo in the Dutch second division. A team fighting for promotion probably wasn’t the smartest of destinations for him to go to as they already had an established pecking order for minutes. Concerns are that he’ll be rusty coming into the World Cup and that could affect his play. However, Tab alleviated those worries by revealing that Zelalem has looked fit and in-form since arriving to training camp.
“We've seen him practice now for the last three or four days,” said Ramos. “Fitness wise he's in a good place. Playing wise he looks very good. So far Gedion has looked very good and we're excited about that.”
This tournament could possibly be a make or break situation for the next few years of his young career. If Ramos is correct and he makes a move this summer, whether it’s permanent or temporary, a strong World Cup would go a long ways to increasing the number and quality of the clubs interested in him.