For USMNT manager Jurgen Klinsmann, the top priority going forward should be securing Gedion Zelalem‘s services for his squad at any and all costs if he continues to impress the way he did in a limited appearance against AS Monaco in the Emirates Cup on Sunday.
Zelalem entered the game in the 72nd minute as he replaced Jack Wilshere in the midfield. Arsenal was trailing by a goal when he entered the game and his impact was certainly felt in the dying stages as his creativity and technical ability were on full display.
Zelalem received a pass from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and was instantly surrounded by several Monaco defenders, but he had enough space to make a quick decision on what to do with the ball. Sensing he was being closed down, Zelalem picked out Chuba Akpom who had curved his run to be in line with Monaco’s weak-side defender and remain onside.
The through ball split two Monaco defenders and saw a streaking Akpom in on goal where he was taken down by Monaco goalkeeper Danijel Subasic inside the 18-yard box. Referee Martin Atkinson incorrectly ruled that the foul occurred outside the box and Arsenal was not awarded the penalty kick they deserved.
The sequence that led to the foul, however, showed why Zelalem is such a coveted prospect for the USMNT, Germany and Ethiopia. His excellent first-touch allowed him to turn forward and catch a glimpse of the field right before making his decision. His awareness of the limited space he had to work with, and recognizing where Akpom was, allowed his decision to be almost instantaneous. The pass itself was inch-perfect and led to a goal-scoring opportunity that might have leveled the score at one and given Arsenal a chance to win the Emirates Cup.
Zelalem also had another neatly chipped through ball a few moments later that was just out of the reach of a streaking Mathieu Flamini who might have had a chance on goal if he had reached it.
While not consistent yet, Zelalem’s quick thinking, vision and passing ability are of a high-level quality that the USMNT simply does not possess right now. Michael Bradley did better than people will give him credit for in the advanced midfield role during the 2014 World Cup, but Zelalem seems tailor-made for the position under Klinsmann. Zelalem’s value in the attacking third could be instrumental to the USMNT making the leap to the next level if he is able to harness it consistently.
Zelalem may not end up seeing many first-team minutes this season, but his talent is undeniable and it seems to be just a matter of time until he is ready to start for Arsene Wenger. A prospect like Zelalem could decide the next decade of soccer for the United States and after yet another display of his enormous potential against Monaco, you can bet that Klinsmann will do everything in his power to get Zelalem to play for the Stars and Stripes.