In the past six weeks, Gedion Zelalem came within 17 seconds of winning a Maryland high school championship. He returned to London for another informal training session with Arsenal and played for his local club, Olney Rangers, at elite tournaments in North Carolina and Florida.
And oh yes, while balancing soccer with freshman schoolwork, he also reported to Germany’s under-15 national team camp and then a U.S. under-15 session.
To recap the story we brought you in September: Gedion is a German citizen of Ethiopian descent who has lived in the States for more than five years. He’ll turn 15 next month. He’s probably two years from becoming eligible for U.S. citizenship. The family is planning to relocate to England in 2013 to facilitate Gedion’s entry into the Arsenal amateur program. (The Premier League club is mum on the issue but has extended an unofficial offer.)
Until that happens, he is attending Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Md. In the fall, with Gedion serving in defensive midfield, the Wildcats boasted a 17-0-1 record entering the state final. But Bowie scored a stunning equalizer in the final minute of regulation and then struck for a golden goal 61 seconds into extra time to secure a 2-1 upset.
The German federation has been aware of him for some time, prompting the invitation to the under-15 gathering in Bremen. A couple of weeks later, he made his second appearance at a U.S. camp in Lakewood Ranch, Fla. The absence of a U.S. passport prevents him from playing in official competition but doesn’t preclude him from training with the squad.
The U.S.-Germany dynamic has played out on the senior and under-23 levels, with multinationals Jermaine Jones, Timothy Chandler, Daniel Williams, Fabian Johnson, David Yelldell and Terrence Boyd, among others, committing to the American set-up.
In situations where players have a choice of countries, the program that affords the best opportunity to excel usually wins out. Most of the aforementioned players didn’t have realistic hopes of representing Germany.
Is Gedion good enough to play for Germany’s junior national teams? It’s too early to say. That uncertainty, as well as his growing bond with U.S. soccer and the American way of life, broadens his outlook.
Which way will Gedion go? Commit to Germany or remain in the U.S. system until citizenship arrives?
“Everything is open,” said his father, who initially hoped planned for his son to represent Germany. “It was a good experience in Germany [recently]. They said they want to invite him again, but he has more of a chance for the U.S. He is more comfortable with the U.S.; he has a lot of friends here.”