HOW ACQUIRED: Signed on Jan. 11, 2020.
Zelalem is a skilled central midfielder that comes to NYCFC looking to earn some playing time under Ronny Deila.
INTERNATIONAL: The midfielder represented Germany at the U-15 through U-17 levels before gaining U.S. citizenship in 2014 and competing for the United States U-20s and U-23s. His first competitive action with the U.S. U-20 Men's National Team came at the 2015 U-20 FIFA World Cup in New Zealand, where he started four of five appearances and helped the Americans reach the quarterfinals before losing to eventual champion Serbia. Zelalem gained experience with the U.S. U-23s at the 2015 Concacaf Men's Olympic Qualifying Championship, starting twice as the Americans finished in third place. He later returned to the U-20 side for the 2016 Four Nations Tournament in England and the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup in South Korea, but his involvement was cut short by a knee injury suffered in the first group stage match against Ecuador.
OUTSIDE MLS: Born in Berlin, Germany, Zelalem moved to the United States with his father in 2006 after three years in the Hertha Berlin Academy. He played for multiple academy teams in the Washington D.C. area and became one of the most heralded youth prospects in the country, eventually starring for Olney Rangers from 2011-2013. Zelalem moved from the U.S. to London in early 2013 to join Arsenal's prestigious academy, rising from the U-16s to the U-21s in his first year with the Gunners. He was part of Arsenal's senior squad during a July 2013 preseason tour of Asia and made his first-team debut as a substitute in Arsenal's 4-0 FA Cup victory over Coventry City on Jan. 24, 2014. The following December, Zelalem earned his UEFA Champions League debut in a 4-1 away win against Turkish giants Galatasaray. Arsenal loaned Zelalem to Scottish powerhouse Rangers FC for the 2015-16 season. He logged 28 appearances for the Glasgow club in all competitions, guiding Rangers to the Scottish Challenge Cup title, a first-place finish in the Scottish Championship and subsequent promotion to the top-flight Premier League. After helping Arsenal to two English League Cup victories in the fall of 2016, Zelalem moved to Dutch club VVV Venlo on loan for the second half of the 2016-17 season. He scored once in nine matches and won another second-division league title as VVV Venlo were promoted to the Eredivisie. The 22-year-old most recently competed for the Arsenal U-23s, returning from an injury last November and scoring in a 2-2 draw against the Brighton & Hove Albion U-23s on Jan. 7. He played his final game for the U-23s in a 4-0 demolition of archrivals Tottenham on Feb. 15.