Gedion Zelalem is officially a United States citizen making way for the 17-year-old German-born midfielder to represent the US national team in international competition, according to a report by the Washington Post‘s Steven Goff late Monday night.
Furthermore, Goff reports that Zelalem has indeed told friends and U.S. Soccer officials that he plans to commit his international future to the USMNT, pending an approval by FIFA of his one-time national allegiance switch.
Zelalem was reportedly in the nation’s capital on Monday, finalizing the naturalization process. He was, of course, recognized by at least two bystanders of this great, growing soccer nation.
Since 2012, Zelalem has made roughly a dozen appearances for German youth national teams at the U-15, U-16 and U-17 levels, but remains eligible for the one-time switch as none of the fixtures in which he represented Germany were part of a FIFA-sanctioned competition.
Zelalem moved to the United States form Germany in 2006 and ended up playing six years of youth soccer in the Washington, D.C., area before he was discovered by Arsenal and signed with the Premier League club in January 2013. Before coming to the US, Zelalem spent four years in the Hertha Berlin youth academy.
He is yet to make his Premier League debut for Arsenal, though Zelalem made his first-team debut last January in the Gunners’ fourth-round FA Cup game against Coventry City and recently appeared as a 46th-minute substitute in Arsenal’s UEFA Champions League group stage finale.
Zelalem’s father, Zelalem Woldyes, was naturalized earlier this year, making his son eligible for an American passport through the Child Citizenship Act. The law, however, only applies to children under the age of 18, and with his 18th birthday less than a month away — Jan. 26 — Zelalem and U.S. Soccer were up against a quickly approaching, non-negotiable deadline.
According to Goff’s report, Zelalem seems to felt have he was “American” all along:
Despite German roots, Zelalem has always felt most comfortable with his American peers. Those close to him have described him as a typical suburban kid who embraced American teenage life. He has remained tight with former classmates and teammates in the Washington area; one parent said Zelalem’s friends here are amused when he uses a British accent in Arsenal video interviews.
Following the approval of his one-time switch, Zelalem must begin his ascendancy through the USYNT ranks — most likely as part of the U-20 team at next summer’s World Cup, given qualification next month, and then the U-23 team attempting to qualify for the 2016 Olympics — on his way to the senior team.