Arsenal midfielder Gedion Zelalem about to jump off the U.S. Soccer radar

9 Comments

On one level, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, because a lot of devoted U.S. Men’s National Team fans would love to see a player with Gedion Zelalem’s profile declare for the team. He’s young, talented, about to break through (in the next few years) with Arsenal, and while that doesn’t guarantee stardom, it still constitutes a profile that the U.S. hasn’t had in its talent pool.

On another level, the meme quality of Zelalem’s U.S. national team potential deserves a reset.  The Berlin-born midfielder of Ethiopian descent who used to live in the United States, coming to the States as a nine-year-old. He trained with the U-15 team but couldn’t play because he wasn’t a citizen. Since, he’s appeared at U-15, U-16, and U-17 levels for Germany. He lacks citizenship, and according to a November report by the BBC, his parents would prefer he play for Ethiopia.

In other words, there’s no reason to be broken-hearted if Zelalem doesn’t play for the United States, because it was always a long shot – one that’s about to go away.

According to the German Football Association’s website, Zelalem has been named to the squad for UEFA Euro U-17 qualifying. Were he to appear for Germany in that competition, he wouldn’t be able to switch the to U.S., with only dual citizens allowed to make a one-time change before appearing at senior level.

Germany’s first qualifier is March 26 against Georgia, but given the 18-man squad plays three games in six days, Zelalem is likely to get at least a cap, particularly considering he’s appeared at this level for Germany before.

But looking that deep into the conversation is overkill. This isn’t a matter of whether Zelalem should or should not be considered American. That’s an entirely different (and more important) discussion, one which sports writers have little to offer the debate. You don’t need Richard Farley’s hot sports take on something academics spend careers pursuing.

This is about eligibility and intent. Is Zelalem eligible to play for the United States? Right now, no. Does he intend to play for the United States? Right now, no. Is there good reason to think the answer to either of these questions will change? Right now, no, and in two weeks, the questions will be even less relevant than they’ve been since Zelalem first appeared for Arsenal in January.

There is, however, some good news: Though Zelalem is unlikely to play for the United States, there are literally thousands of players 17 and younger across the country with real aspirations of a professional soccer career. Some of them are already on the U.S. national team’s radar, with places in Major League Soccer academies and prominent clubs meaning team sites, blogs, and local media are ready to give them coverage. If you really want to see a U-17, future national teamer, there may be one near you.

These players are U.S. players coming through the U.S. system who have real dreams of representing the U.S. They’re not somebody who is moving toward playing for Germany.

The Aron Johannsson example says we shouldn’t close doors, but Johannsson wanted to switch. Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson, Timmy Chandler all self-identified as Americans, at some point.

Zelalem’s been playing for Germany since 2012. And in 2014, he’s likely to make that commitment final. This shouldn’t be news.

Allow me to congratulate Gedion Zelalem, should he play against Georgia. Here’s hoping this is the next step in a long and successful soccer career. That it won’t be with the U.S. shouldn’t make it any less relevant.

Fan dies after falling off football stadium in Brazil

Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images
Leave a comment

SAO PAULO (AP) A Brazilian football fan has died after falling 25 meters from the top of Morumbi Stadium in Sao Paulo onto a parking lot.

The height is equivalent to an eight-story building.

Bruno Pereira da Silva, aged 23, suffered head injuries and died upon arrival at a local hospital on Sunday.

[ MORE: Complete Panama-USMNT preview ]

He and other fans were attempting to jump to a section of the stadium where they could get a better view of the Sao Paulo state championship match between Sao Paulo and archrival Corinthians. The game ended 1-1.

Friends of da Silva told Brazilian media Silva was attending his first football match.

CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers: CRC, Honduras get off the mat

Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The two traditional CONCACAF powers are riding high following Friday’s round of World Cup qualifiers, while the two other sides to qualify for Brazil 2014 are licking their wounds.

Honduras and Costa Rica both found themselves on the wrong side of shutout losses to the United States and Mexico, while Trinidad and Tobago injected itself into the discussion with a home win over Panama.

[ WATCH: CONCACAF qualifiers on Telemundo ]

What’s cooking for Tuesday? Read on:

Honduras vs. Costa Rica — 5 p.m. EDT Tuesday

Two sides which love to play physical, on-the-edge soccer meet on the heels of Friday losses. Expect Jorge Luis Pinto’s Catrachos to adapt after a 6-0 beatdown at the hands of the U.S., but they’ll have to do much, much better at home.

The dates at Estadio Morazan have to be the key for Honduras to climb into the Top Three, and it’ll be buoyed by memories of its 3-1 win over T&T two rounds ago. As for Costa Rica, Los Ticos aim to respond from conceding their first two goals of the Hex.

Trinidad and Tobago vs. Mexico — 7 p.m. EDT Tuesday

Kevin Molino’s strike gave T&T its first three points of qualifying, but its odds of getting a result against visiting Mexico aren’t nearly as good. The Soca Warriors desperation will be easy to see, as June’s qualifiers include trips to the U.S. and Costa Rica.

El Tri now has wins in two of its trickier Hex matches after adding Friday’s 2-0 win over Costa Rica to its upset of the Yanks in Columbus. Ten points through four matches would be exemplary; A draw or loss leaves the door open for Costa Rica to summit the Hex table.

United States vs. Panama — 10:05 p.m. EDT Tuesday

Read our extensive preview here, but the upshot is this: The United States can rise into the Top Three by beating Panama, while Los Canaleros will be happy to scoop a draw to stem any bleeding cause by Molino and T&T.

Argentina feels World Cup pressure; Brazil set to party

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

SAO PAULO (AP) Argentina was the runner-up in the last World Cup. This time it’s under rising pressure just to qualify.

That pressure will be felt even more in its match Tuesday against Bolivia in the thin air of La Paz, which is located in the Andes at 3,650 meters (11,900 feet) altitude.

Argentina has not won a match there since 2005, upping the stakes a bit more.

[ MORE: Complete Panama-USMNT preview ]

Meanwhile, South American rival Brazil will gear up for possible early qualification if it beats Paraguay in Sao Paulo. To advance, the South American group leader needs a victory and a few other results to fall its way. But win or lose, Brazil is heading for the World Cup in Russia with five rounds of qualifying remaining.

Argentina cannot be so confident.

Second-placed Uruguay faces a winnable match at lowly Peru, and fourth-placed Colombia has a real test at fifth-placed Ecuador. Sixth-placed Chile welcomes last-placed Venezuela in Santiago, hoping to climb back into qualifying position.

With five rounds to go, Brazil has 30 points – more than enough to secure a spot in previous World Cups. Uruguay has 23 and Argentina 22.

With Brazil almost sure to advance – and Venezuela, Bolivia and Peru struggling at the bottom – that leaves six teams fighting for the three remaining automatic spots for Russia. Another South American team could also advance in a playoff.

[ MORE: Wood looks ahead to working with Arena, praises Klinsmann ]

—-

ARGENTINA

Argentina put on a poor performance on Thursday, but managed to beat Chile 1-0 in Buenos Aires after a controversial penalty was conceded and converted by Barcelona star Lionel Messi.

The visitors will miss suspended Barcelona midfielder Javier Mascherano, which is making coach Edgardo Bauza think of dramatic changes to the team.

Before the win against Chile and the loss of Mascherano, Bauza was considering a defensive 5-4-1 formation in La Paz, hoping to save his players’ energy and capitalize on the ball-holding Mascherano. Now he may be forced into a more offensive formation that relies less on counterattacking.

Bolivian coach Mauricio Soria, who spared some of his main players in the 1-0 defeat at Colombia on Thursday, said his team will not be intimidated by the Argentine stars and should push hard against them. His team will be rested and in familiar surroundings.

“We hope we can make them feel a lot of their fears,” Soria said.

—-

BRAZIL

After the impressive thrashing of Uruguay 4-1 in Montevideo, Brazil is so close to the World Cup spot that many players are already looking for new challenges as Brazil chases it sixth World Cup title.

For the spot to be assured, Brazil needs to beat Paraguay and see Venezuela overcome Chile in Santiago. Also, Colombia needs to get its first win at Ecuador in 20 years.

Even if the “official” qualification doesn’t come, there will surely be a party at Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo.

Coach Tite, who has won seven straight games in qualifiers since he took over in September, had his best days at Corinthians. He won two Brazilian championships, one Copa Libertadores, and the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup title after a 1-0 victory over England’s Chelsea in Japan.

Defender Fagner, also a Corinthians player, will replace suspended Dani Alves.

“I feel no pressure, I want to enjoy every moment of this,” Fagner told reporters.

If he doesn’t do well, Tite has already brought Sevilla’s Mariano for a test.

—-

COLOMBIA

The Colombia vs. Ecuador match could be key to the aspirations of both teams: Colombia has 21 points, and Ecuador has 20.

The disappointing performance in the 1-0 victory over Bolivia on Thursday is making Colombia fans worry that their team might not qualify for the World Cup. The game in Quito promises to be even more complicated now that coach Jose Pekerman’s side has lost its best striker to injury. Luis Muriel had a right-leg injury and will likely be replaced by Miguel Borja or Carlos Bacca.

History does not favor Colombia: it has been 20 years since Colombia last beat Ecuador at the Atahualpa stadium.

Ecuador also has problems for the key clash. Striker Miller Bolanos and midfielder Christian Noboa will be out and their replacements are not yet set.

Bobby Wood looks forward to working with Arena, praises Klinsmann

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
1 Comment

A back injury kept Bobby Wood from United States men’s national team camp, but the Hamburg striker has been feeling good about the side’s World Cup fortunes since before the big win over Honduras.

Speaking with Hamburg’s team magazine, Wood gave a sprawling interview on his career and time with the national team. Wood praised Arena for scouting in Germany, saying the USMNT boss is a quiet coach who has his own style of playing, one that will prod the Yanks into the World Cup.

[ MORE: Complete USMNT-Panama preview ]

But the 24-year-old Hawaii-born striker saved his fondest words for ex-coach Jurgen Klinsmann, essentially calling him a career-saver. From HSV live (translated from German):

He’s very important to me. I believe if Jürgen had not been U.S. coach, then I might have stopped playing football or would have played somewhere in the fourth league.

That is why I am very, very grateful to him. At that time I was in a deep hole – it was real heavy. … He has believed in my quality. We are still in contact, he texts me.

Wood was a part-time player for 1860 Munich when Klinsmann first called him up to the national team side, and now he’s a Bundesliga striker who will be in demand if the club is relegated. Wood has also been mentioned as a target for Premier League clubs.

That’s a pretty good career jump. Klinsmann may have failed to deliver much of what he promised to the national team, but talent mining was done quite well.