DAVID SMITH - Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Santa made his rounds few days later for many US fans, as Gedion Zelalem appears headed to the stars and stripes.
The ultimate national team destination of the Berlin-born Zelalem has been the subject of speculation, hope and worry for many US fans for much of 2014. While born in Germany to Ethiopian parents, reports indicated that the Arsenal academy member had an opening to US citizenship through his father, with whom he emigrated to the United States in 2006.
The 17 year-old attacking midfielder has been a mainstay in Arsenal's developmental squad since joining the club in 2013, although he did finally make his senior team debut earlier this month as a second-half substitute against Galatasaray in their final Champions League group-stage game.
Many months of speculation as to whether he would be able to successfully attain a US passport by his 18th birthday were finally answered on Tuesday, as reports began to surface - and were ultimately confirmed by US Soccer authorities - that the 17 year-old attacking midfielder had been in the US to pick up his passport at the beginning of the week.
First reported by the Washington Post, this was confirmed a few hours later in a short but much-welcomed tweet by US Soccer head Sunil Gulati.
"Gedion Zelalem is now a U.S. citizen. At his request we have started the FIFA process which would allow him to be eligible for the USMNT," was the word from Gulati's official Twitter account.
Should there be no unforeseen complications in dealing with Zelalem's international status, he will join FC Bayern academy product Julian Green as a second highly-touted German-American teenager to commit his future to the US in 2014.
Like Green, Zelalem has already represented his native Germany at youth levels, however having never played in any official competitions, he is not required to file a one-time switch to play for the US.
This means that he would be eligible to play for the US in the 2015 U-20 World Cup in New Zealand, should the team qualify, without giving up future senior-team eligibility for Germany or his father's native Ethiopia - a fact which will undoubtedly give the more worry-prone US fans an always-sought-after excuse to unnecessarily fret.
Unlike Green, who already played with Germany in qualification games for the upcoming 2015 U-20 World Cup in New Zealand before switching to the US, Zelalem is eligible to join Tab Ramos's squad for the tournament in the summer if they successfully navigate the CONCACAF qualification tournament in Jamaica in early-January.
The vociferous worrywarts are certain to cry for his inclusion in the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup squad and a perfunctory cap-tying run-out to eternally shut the door on any potential German or Ethiopian interest. However, his addition to an already quality group eligible for the trip to New Zealand will be an indispensable chance to effectively acclimate this unproven talent with the next generation of young American players.
Regardless of how US Soccer chooses to use him in the coming months, today's news means that American fans should begin to have the opportunity to see for themselves within in the near future whether Zelalem will live up to the lofty hype and expectations placed upon his shoulders.