At 27 years old, Gedion Zelalem has this physical status:
Gedion Zelalem (born January 26, 1997) is a German-born American professional soccer player who plays for Major League Soccer team Sporting Kansas City. Zelalem first competed with Arsenal's youth squads before joining the team in early 2013 and making his senior squad debut for Arsenal's under-16 squad, under-16 squad, and under-17 team during 2012 and 2013.
On December 2, 2014, he became a United States citizen, and FIFA later accepted his call to play for the United States on May 13, 2015.
Zelalem was born in Berlin, Germany, to Ethiopian parents. He began playing football for BFC Germania 1888, a German club. He then transferred to Hertha BSC's academy in a Bundesliga fashion.
Zelalem and his father immigrated to the United States in 2006 after his mother's death in the previous year, and he and his mother settled in the Washington, D.C. suburbs. He competed with several clubs, first with MSC United, Bethesda Soccer Club, and the BNC Revolution, before joining Walter Johnson High School in Montgomery County, Maryland.
Gedion is now living in the United States, where he is pursuing his professional career. Gedion lost his younger sister, who was ten years old at the time, in a tragic car accident during a family's visit to Ethiopia in July 2018. This tragic event had a major impact on Gedion, according to family members, but he has demonstrated a strong determination to get through the grief.
Danny Karbassiyoon, Arsenal's scout, discovered Zelalem in the United States playing for Olney Rangers during a Dallas Cup match. Zelalem was flown to London for summer training with the Arsenal youth academy; following the conclusion of this camp, he was given a permanent seat in the academy. Zelalem started out playing in Arsenal's under-16s squad before progressing to the under-21s in April 2013. He made his under-21 debut against Liverpool U21 earlier this month, but Arsenal was unable to stop Arsenal from losing 3–2 at Anfield; nevertheless, he was lauded for his efforts. He made his second appearance for the team less than a week later in a 3–2 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers U21, receiving accolades for his efforts.
Zelalem was included in Arsenal's 24-man squad for their Asia tour in July 2013. Despite being regarded as a surprise inclusion, strong results against an Indonesia Dream Team, the Vietnam national team, and Japanese side Nagoya Grampus led to him being dubbed a future star and being compared favorably to Cesc Fàbregas.
Zelalem expressed concern for his upcoming appearances in the 2013–14 season after those strong shows. He stayed in the team for the Emirates Cup match against Galatasaray on August 4, but he was unable to prevent Arsenal from falling to a 2–1 loss. Zelalem was selected on the bench for Arsenal's second Premier League game of the season, a 3–1 victory over Fulham on August 24, but did not appear. However, Zelalem revealed on Twitter on September 10 that he had sustained an accident that would keep him out of action for up to two months. Arsène Wenger confirmed that he would not be fit for the League Cup match against Chelsea on October 29, despite a previous rumors. He returned to action for Arsenal's youth team a week later in a UEFA Youth League match against Borussia Dortmund on November 6, playing the entire match in a 2–2 draw.
Zelalem made his debut with Arsenal's senior team on January 24, 2014, serving as a replacement for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the 71st minute of their 4–0 home FA Cup victory over Coventry City. Zelalem also agreed a contract extension with Arsenal on March 18, 2014, which will stand out until 2017. Zelalem came on as a replacement in the second half of the UEFA Champions League, beating Galataray 4–1 away on December 9, 2014, when he made his second appearance for Arsenal.
Zelalem was loaned to Rangers until January on August 24, 2015. Martyn Waghorn and James Tavernier scored in 5–0 victory over Airdrieonians in the Scottish League Cup, setting up goals for him and James Tavernier. He made his league debut in Rangers' Scottish Championship game against Queen of the South, which Rangers defeated 5–1. In January 2016, his loan was extended until the end of the season.
He appeared in 21 Championship matches, helping Rangers win the second division, and he was an unemployed replacement after they defeated Peterhead 4–0 to win the 2015–16 Scottish Challenge Cup. Rangers faced Celtic, their old school rivals, in the Scottish Cup semifinals a week later. Zelalem converted a penalty in the shootout to help his team advance to the final and kick off the game against Hibernian, who lost 3–2 on the tie.
Zelalem officially signed a contract extension with Arsenal and agreed a loan transfer to Dutch second-tier side VVV-Venlo, which will continue until the end of the season. As VVV Venlo won the 2016-17 Eerste Divisie title, he made nine appearances in the league.
Zelalem joined Sporting Kansas City for free on March 10, 2019. He had no first team appearances at Arsenal since returning to action in 2017.
After Sporting Kansas City did not choose Zelalem's option, he signed for fellow MLS team New York City FC on January 11, 2020. On December 1, 2020, Zelalem's labor choice was turned down by the team's management, but on March 8, the club agreed to a new one before the 2021 season.
Zelalem made seven league appearances in a season that culminated in winning the MLS Cup due to injuries. Zelalem signed a one-year deal extension with option years in 2023 and 2024 two days later.
International eligibility and career
Zelalem had a chance to represent Ethiopia globally prior to making his one-time move to the United States due to his parents' nationality. Sewnet Bishaw, Ethiopia's coach, and Ethiopian foreign minister Tedros Adhanom announced in October that they wished Zelalem would play for Ethiopia, but Zelalem turned down the opportunity.
Zelalem had previously competed for Germany's youth teams before becoming an American citizen. He played for Germany's under-15 and under-16 teams, making two appearances for the under-15s and eight for the under-16s. Zelalem represented Germany at under-17 level in a friendly versus Spain in November 2013. In March 2014, he dropped out of Germany's Under-17 national team for the Group 5 2014 European Under-17 Football Championship elite round fixtures, and he's now withdrew from the Germany under-17 national team for friendly matches against France, citing his desire to represent the US rather than France.
Zelalem began training with the US under the age of 15, but was unable to participate in games at that time because he was deemed a permanent resident but not yet a resident of the United States. In May 2014, it was revealed that Zelalem Wolydes, Zelalem Wolydes, was a permanent resident in the United States and planning to apply for American citizenship. If Wolydes obtained US citizenship before his son's age 18, then Gedion would also qualify for American citizenship and become eligible to represent the United States around the world under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000. He will also be able to keep his German passport, which allows him to live and work in the European Union without restrictions.
Zelalem became a United States citizen on December 29, 2014, according to the Washington Post, and Zelalem had applied for a fast-posted US passport. Sunil Gulati, the head of United States Soccer, announced that the US Soccer board had started the process to allow Zelalem to play for the national team after Zelalem obtained his citizenship. Zelalem was banned from naturalizing and representing countries to which they do not have ties, but he could not start representing the United States for a minimum of five years. Since Zelalem attended middle school in the United States, Gulati said that US Soccer filed an exception. On May 13, 2015, he was accepted to compete for the United States and was named to the United States squad for the 2015 FIFA Under-20 World Cup. He made his debut against Australia in an under-20 friendly match on May 19, 2015, which the United States defeated Australia 2–1.