Who is Gedion Zelalem and why are Americans excited that he became a U.S. citizen?

American soccer fans got very excited indeed when the Washington Post’s Steve Goff broke that Gedion Zelalem had gotten his United States citizenship and would be declaring his intent to play international soccer for America. President of U.S. Soccer Sunil Gulati then sent out a tweet confirming it, and USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann welcomed him as well.

Zelalem is a 17-year-old midfielder who currently plays for Arsenal’s reserve team. Arsenal has a pretty decent track record of developing young talent, so if they think that Zelalem is worthy of a spot on their reserve team, he’s someone that soccer fans are understandably going to be excited about. And he’s going to play his international soccer for the U.S., which is a good thing.

Zelalem was born in Germany, and his father is from Ethiopia, so he could have potentially played for either of those countries. As a child, though, Zelalem moved with his family to Maryland and started playing soccer for club teams in the area. At a Dallas Cup match, an Arsenal scout spotted Zelalem and the club flew him over to London for a trial, and he’s been there more-or-less since. With his family having a strong base in the States, he was able to apply for and receive citizenship. He received his passport this week.

America is improving its youth development program, but this isn’t Germany, where there’s a world-class attacking midfielder hanging out at most bus stops.

The U.S. has previously lost out on players with dual-citizenship, most notably when Giuseppi Rossi, an Italian-American player born in New Jersey, elected to play internationally for Italy. Rossi has had his career hampered by injuries, but he’s still considered a top-class striker. U.S. fans don’t want to see that happen again.

For Klinsmann’s shortcomings as a tactical manager, he has proven to be a fantastic recruiter. Zelalem joins Aron Johannsson, Julian Green, and John Brooks as young players with options who have decided to represent the U.S. internationally. This can only help the U.S. moving forward.
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