While Gedion Zelalem could be the future face of the United States Men’s National Team, it seems we are still years away from seeing him reach the vast potential he has and that is absolutely fine.
Zelalem, who plays for Arsenal, mainly with the younger club squads, debuted for the team in a preseason friendly against the New York Red Bulls in Harrison, New Jersey on Saturday.
It was his first up close and personal encounter with the American soccer fan base other than what the hardcore fans might have seen on Youtube or in limited action last season when he made his senior-team debut in the FA Cup against Coventry City.
His first, and hopefully not his last, appearance on American soil was a rather unimpressive one as his still-progressing physical attributes limited his effectiveness on the ball. Zelalem did not have a large amount of touches, but he was playing a bit out of position as a right midfielder; he projects more as a true center midfielder with excellent vision and passing instincts.
However, he did have one majestic moment that should have seen Arsenal level the game if not for a fantastic save by Red Bulls keeper Luis Robles. Zelalem played a brilliant first-time combo with Jack Wilshere that saw Wilshere in on goal only for his shot to be denied. It was a piece of quick thinking and inventiveness that has Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, as well as many others, excited about Zelalem’s future and potential.
For all the hype, fans may have been expecting a bit more from Zelalem in that contest, but we must keep in mind that he is still only 17 years old. He will continue to get stronger physically which he will need to patrol the middle of the pitch and control the ball in high pressure situations. His skill set is already very advanced for someone his age, but playing with the likes of Wilshere, Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla will only help him develop further on the field.
While he may not get many senior team minutes this year, Zelalem is clearly on a very good path right now. The simple fact that he is already as highly regarded in a world-class side like Arsenal speaks volumes about his individual talent and the potential impact he could have for the USMNT, should he choose to play for them.
Zelalem’s 45 minutes on Saturday may have been a small tease at what he is capable of on the pitch, but there is no doubt that we will see much more of him going forward and we should be very excited about that.