The 18-year-old Arsenal midfielder could be heading to the Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand this summer - but only if FIFA's clearance comes in time.
When US Under-20 head coach Tab Ramos announced his squad for the upcoming World Cup on Thursday, there was an unavoidable caveat to the list, with only 20 of the 21 available spots filled.
Aged just 18, the Berlin-born midfielder has been exciting American fans ever since he first surfaced as a potential option for the US and is now in the process of obtaining a waiver that would allow him to represent them.
Having lived in the States between 2006 and 2013 before joining the Gunners, the former German under-17 international is just waiting for FIFA’s clearance before he can turn out for his adopted nation, while Jurgen Klinsmann has even claimed that he is talented enough to walk straight into the senior squad.
With just two first-team cameos to his name, that statement might seem somewhat outlandish but Ramos himself is a huge fan of Zelalem’s potential after watching him in action and is now crossing his fingers that FIFA clear him before next week’s deadline.
“Part of the decision [to wait] was that I saw him play a little bit,” he laughed. “So the decision was, ‘Why don’t we wait a little bit longer just in case?’
“The fact that he plays for Arsenal is obviously a great thing but we shouldn’t get caught up in the fact that he’s at a big club.
“I think that in Gedion’s case, though, he’s a very good player and someone who could potentially help the team a lot.
“We have another week to wait and I think that he have nothing to lose by waiting a little time for him if we can.”
The US will kick off the Under-20 World Cup on May 30 against Myanmar, before rounding out the group stage with games against hosts New Zealand and Ukraine on June 2 and 5, respectively.
If Zelalem can’t make the trip then Philadelphia Union midfielder Zach Pfeffer will take up the 21st and final spot in the squad over the likes of Columbus Crew SC’s Romain Gall, Borussia Dortmund’s Junior Flores and Sunderland’s Lynden Gooch.