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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Who is Zelalem?

Photo credit: Arsenal FC
Move over, Julian Green. Here comes the next you. That's right, Klinsmann and his crew are at it again and this time they may have just added another highly-rated prospect in Gedion Zelalem.

Zelalem plays for Arsenal's U-21 squad, was born in Germany and is of Ethiopian descent, meaning he could play for either of those countries. The youngster did play for the Germany youth squads U-15 and U-17 but never in an official tournament. This opened the possibility for him to choose the US National Team once he had his citizenship; he is in the process of acquiring it.

As was the case with Julian Green when he became a household name for USA fans, Zelalem has made one official appearance for the senior Arsenal team--in the FA Cup. Green debuted for Bayern Munich in garbage time of a Champions League match.

So how is the capture of Zelalem important? It means that the US recruiting system is in full gear and working like it never has in the past. There is no more losing players like Neven Subotic or Giuseppe Rossi. It also means more pressure on local talent, however.

How do American soccer youngsters react to inclusion of players like Green and possibly Zelalem? This is uncertain. While older players welcomed Green with open arms in training prior to the Mexico friendly in April, we don't know how the average American prospect feels about the inclusion of double nationals.

It is likely that the effects of double nationals is minimal, although far less than insignificant. Already we have Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson, Aron Johannsson and Terrence Boyd as likely call-ups for the final 23 to participate in Brazil 2014. That's one fifth of the team. If players like John Brooks, Daniel Williams and Julian Green are also added, this could make it up to a third of the team.

In the end, national team business is about competition. About getting the best possible available players ready for competition. It is not too dissimilar from how club teams behave in transfer cycles. It is a reality of the sport.

Right now, Zelalem is a prospect. It is still up to him if he wants to join the US. He will not go to the World Cup but could be in for the Olympics. He would also enter what's fast becoming a more impressive group of players that could compete in the Russia 2018 World Cup. The soccer planet continues to turn, and Zelalem is a welcome part of the process.

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