When Premier League side Arsenal come stateside to take on the MLS All-Stars this Thursday evening, they will be bringing with them a name that has grown familiar to American soccer fans.
19-year-old Gedion Zelalem will be joining the Gunners in San Jose when they arrive for the MLS All-Star Game. Last year, Zelalem, a German-American, committed to playing for the United States rather than Germany in international competition. Zelalem joined Arsenal back in 2013, but has been on loan with newly-promoted Rangers of the Scottish Premiership.
Zelalem played with the United States U20 squad in last year’s FIFA U20 World Cup in New Zealand, in which the Americans reached the quarterfinals, losing to Serbia on penalties. Zelalem also saw action with the U23 side in qualifying matches for the Rio Olympics, which the US failed to qualify for. He has yet to score a goal for the USA, or appear for the senior national team.
Fans will get to see Zelalem go up against a lot of the American players whom they hope he will be competing with for playing time in a few years, such as Sacha Kljestan, Darlington Nagbe, and even veterans Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman. However, Zelalem is coming off a largely disappointing season.
While loaned out at Rangers, then a second-tier side, Zelalem lost his starting spot a couple of months into the season after playing poorly. That certainly was not what Arsenal or US Soccer had in mind at this stage of his young career. Zelalem will be getting a crack in the Arsenal team during this preseason, and his young career could hinge on whether he plays well this summer.
If Zelalem disappoints yet again and can’t find playing time at a high level, it could drastically hinder his chances at making the US men’s national team in the near future. However, if he plays well and manages to find the pitch for Arsenal this upcoming season, American soccer fans know how much Jurgen Klinsmann loves players who play in Europe. It’s not ridiculous to say he could see the field as soon as 2018 World Cup Qualifiers for the Americans in that case.
While MLS fans will surely be cheering for their All-Stars to pull a victory, pay close attention to Zelalem. What the world sees from him this summer could very well determine how much of him it sees in the future.