Gedion Zelalem’s future with the US national team may be further off than many expected.
According to an ESPN FC report Tuesday, a FIFA rule stipulates that the Maryland-raised Zelalem, an Arsenal prospect who acquired his US citizenship last month, must live Stateside for five years following his 18th birthday to become eligible for the USMNT.
Although, according to the report, US Soccer expects Zelalem, who turned 18 on Monday, to be granted an exception by FIFA, which allows them for players who can show their naturalization did not violate the spirit of the law.
Zelalem obtained his citizenship through a process that allows children of naturalized US citizens who are still minors – his parents are both Ethiopian – to become US citizens. He also at that time declared his intention to suit up for the US, the Washington Post reported, rather than Germany where he was born and represented at various youth levels.
The FIFA rule, however, is designed to prevent countries from recruiting and naturalizing foreigners for the sole purpose of strengthening a national team.
US Soccer president Sunil Gulati was quoted in the report as saying they are working with FIFA and expect to have Zelalem eligible in a few months.
"We're going through the FIFA process and hope to have Gedion eligible by March or April," Gulati, who also sits on FIFA's Executive Committee, told ESPN FC on Monday. "We don't expect any issues."