With that tweet the President of U.S. Soccer confirmed a report in the Washington Post that the U.S. MNT had won the services of Arsenal’s exciting young midfielder, and immediately set imaginations racing among American soccer fans.
The slender 17 year old was able to acquire a United States passport after his Ethiopian born father, Zelalem Woldyes, became an American citizen earlier this week.
Under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, the foreign born minors of naturalized citizens immediately become eligible for a passport.
Zelalem has yet to make his English Premier League debut for the Gunners, although the precocious young talent did appear for Arsenal in an F.A. Cup match last January against Galatasaray.
German born, Zelalem has previously appeared for German youth teams, although he has not been cap tied. Unlike most of the dual nationals to choose the U.S. in recent years, Zelalem lived for a considerable time in America, moving to Maryland with his family in 2006.
The youngster played in the 2011 Maryland State High School Championship game for Walter Johnson H.S., and owes much of his soccer development to time spent with his club team, Olney (Md.) Rangers.
Gulati’s tweet makes it clear that Zelalem has set his sights on playing for the U.S., although nothing is set in stone until he takes the field for the Red, White and Blue in an official FIFA sanctioned match.
The U.S. has a full schedule in 2015, with the U20 World Cup and the Gold Cup leading the way, and the Olympic qualifiers coming, so Jurgen Klinsmann and Tab Ramos will have plenty of opportunities to see their prize catch in action.
The hype machine has already left the station on Zelalem; U.S. fans and followers have been tracking his immigration status for a couple of years now. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger threw some gasoline on the fire when he told Sports Illustrated this about the smooth passing youngster way back in 2013. “He’s in some ways the kind of player the US was missing during the World Cup.”
Zelalem has been dubbed the next Fabregas, and by Wenger the missing ingredient for the U.S. MNT. That is a lot of weight on Zelalem’s narrow shoulders, and many a youth phenom has flamed out in the past. Freddy Adu anyone?
Still, if Zelalem comes close to living up to the hype, he may solve a long standing problem for the U.S. MNT, the lack of a creative presence in the center of the park.
It may be too soon to believe the hype, but as fans of U.S. Soccer look to the New Year, perhaps it is not too soon to enjoy it.