US national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann appears to be quite the recruiter, and it seems he has the US on the brink of landing another much-talked about young prospect. It was revealed Friday evening by The Washington Post's Steven Goff that Arsenal midfielder Gedion Zelalem is close to obtaining US citizenship and thus becoming eligble for the US men's national team.
Zelalem, 17, was reported to be in Washington, with his father for naturalization purposes, meaning both could be close to obtaining US passports.
The player was born in Germany and is of Ethiopian descent, and lived for six years in the DC area, where his father, Zelalem Wolydes, worked as a medical technician. Zelalam is eligible for US citizenship through the Child Citizenship act of 2000, which “serves to facilitate the acquisition of US citizenship of the foreign-born children of US citizens – both biological and adopted – who did not acquire citizenship at birth.”
Zelalem recenty made his first-team debut for Arsenal in a January FA Cup match against Coventry City and has been an unused substitute in three English Premier League matches. He signed a first-team contract in March.
On the international level, Zelalem has triained with the US Under-15 national team, though was not eligible to represent them in a game. He was recently also with the German youth national teams, but withdrew from preparation for Euro U-17 qualifiers in March, at the time citing a desire to concentrate on his club career.
If he had played for Germany in those qualifiers, he no longer would have been eligible to represent the US; though FIFA allows a one-time change of association, as was the case when German-American prospect Julian Green recently committed to the USMNT, it can only be to a nation they were a citizen of at the time of their international debut. If he does obtain US citizenship, Zelalem would still be eligible to represent Germany and Ethiopia, in addition to the US.
When contacted by MLSsoccer.com about the news on Saturday, a US Soccer spokesman indicated that a player's citizenship quest is a personal decision but that they are keeping tabs on Zelalem, the same as all potential candidates for senior or youth national team squads.
USMNT assistant coach Andy Herzog indicated as much to SI.com last month.
"There are a lot of young very talented players in Europe with dual citizenship," Herzog told SI.com's Grant Wahl at the time. "We won the first battle with the German federation [over Julian Green]. With Gedion Zelalem and Shawn Parker would be the second one. But it's a little bit more difficult. I don't know exactly the rules with passport situations.
"We have to do the same job. We will try everything, but especially with Gedion Zelalem it will be a little bit more difficult."