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Gedion Zelalem taking confidence from U-20 World Cup as pursuit for first-team action continues

Gedion Zelalem U.S. U-20s 68



Despite being a relative newcomer to the U.S. Soccer scene, Gedio Zelalem is setting lofty goals for both himself and his national team in the wake of the Under-20 World Cup.

Zelalem, a member of the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team that was defeated in penalty kicks by Serbia on Sunday, is proud of how the Americans performed in reaching the quarterfinals of such a difficult tournament. However, the Arsenal product also wants to see more from a U.S. program that has made significant strides in recent years but still has yet to win a major international competition.

“I think we’ve done well, but we also want to reach higher,” Zelalem told “We’re not satisfied just getting to quarterfinals. We want to be reaching finals and winning tournaments.”

While Zelalem is keeping the 2018 World Cup as a goal on the international level, the 18-year-old will is now turning his focus towards finding success on the club front.

Zelalem, who has made two first-team appearances for Arsenal to this point, is hoping to break into the Gunners’ senior team this year. The midfielder has frequently drawn the praises of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger in recent seasons, but Zelalem understands that it will be tough to break into the first team of a perennial Premier League contender.

In any case, Zelalem knows he needs to be playing this year.

“I’m going to go back for preseason and try to get into the first team and play some games. If I can do that, great. If not, I’ll look to get out on loan somewhere,” Zelalem said. “It’s a dream come true to be at a club like Arsenal and I want to get into the first team this season, play minutes and start matches. I have high expectations of myself and if I was to be starting week in, week out, I wouldn’t be surprised.”

Zelalem hopes those high expectations help push him to the next level on both the club and international levels. Following a U-20 World Cup full of both highs and lows, Zelalem is looking to apply those lessons going forward in an effort to help both his game and country reach the next level.

“Being here with the boys has been great and it’s definitely given me a taste for playing in these kind of events,” Zelalem said. “I think there’s a few guys in this squad, myself included, who could be in the senior squad for the next World Cup and that has to be our aim.”


  1. I really hope he takes career advise from people posting on here, clearly you all have made the correct decisions and totally know what you are talking about, its a blessing you have time to post her between either playing your top level professional matches or coaching your champions league team

  2. Please trust el comandirtbags opinion on Rubio, he follows el tri and absolutely knows garbage when he sees it. He shall be known as Oscar, a person who will always wallow in garbage. Everyone expected GZ to perform like an ace just because he is at Arsenal but just ask the trolls of el tri how impressive their players in big European clubs perform against the mighty US of A. We beat them like rented mules and then they start bringing up history and their Olympic gold medal. Just keep in mind here in the US when we talk about the Olympic games we collect medals, plural, not a medal and no bragging needed it’s expected.

  3. Two negative things i saw in the last game. Zelalem was not a terror on 50/50 balls, in fact he often seemed unwilling to mix it up. On a few crosses from the right Zelalem was no where to be found in attack. Perhaps it was the tight camera angle, but I couldn’t find him and neither could his mates.

    The first drawback is about heart and disposition. They don’t necessarily improve with age, but there have been very good players who avoided contact, so not a necessity. The second criticism is tactics, they can improve with experience.

    Zelalem does not appear to be ready for first team ball at club or country, which is to be expected. Hopefully he won’t pull a Green and sit out in a hussy fit for an entire year. He could be getting first team minutes soon if he continues playing.

    • This game confirmed what the first game should have taught Tab. Gedion should not play on the wing. When he receives the ball he’s best having a 360 degrees of options. When he receives it on the wing he’s limited and literally half the player. During the Serbia game it was noticeable once he slided more central how more effective he was.

      He’s not a bulldog never will be. Ideally there’s a Beckerman next to him.. or someone that will win tackles.

      That said he was a little soft and slight at times.. Time will tell.

  4. Zelalem will be a U.S. Team regular. The U.S. fans seem to not understand his skill set and how it’s such an asset for our team. Still stuck in the 90’s mind frame.

    • He is a special talent. But he is not yet a man and against both Colombia and Serbia, he showed he is not a strong 20 year-old either.

      I suspect time will give him more strength and then his talent will become more obvious. No player who loses more than half of the 50-50 balls will ever be considered great.

      Messi who is not big and not always very aggressive comes away with the ball in 50-50 situations more often than not. Gedion did not, so there is work to do no matter how one looks at it.

      • Well…I agree he needs more strength and assertiveness but he is 18 years old playing against physically mature 20 years. Strength (not size) will come with time. The only thing I question is his assertiveness.

      • correct, i didn’t fault him for not winning 50/50 balls, only for not GOING AFTER some of those balls. THATS what i want for him, some aggression perhaps

    • I wish he woukd mix it up a little with more one or two touch passes and speed the game up when he can. I hope he will be the difference maker that you think he will.

  5. Old Man Riverwalk,
    Hello my name is Keith. My 76 yr old Step father played for Brentford way back when. He moved to the US in the mid 70’s. I have tried in the past to contact the club and get some type of memorabilia for him. But have had no luck. He STILL coaches youth teams in the Dallas Tx area. I was hoping you could help me.

  6. When GZ committed to the US, the celebrations on here were way over the top and now, after a few middling performances, people are basically writing him off. Let’s give him time and see what happens. Hopefully he goes out on loan and gets some first team minutes.

    • I really would not call Zelalems performance middling in any of the games.
      I believe he was one of the top players on the field in every game. People who are writing him off (not you slowleftarm) either expected him to dominate completely or just don’t know talent when they see it. Zelalem is special, and he has a great attitude as well, I think he will go far.

      • Absolutely. He’s dripping with skill, and he’d had almost no time with the team prior to the tourney. His vision was OBVIOUS from most of these games.

    • that wouldn’t be a bad idea, at least for a year or two. He could do well there with all the shortpass-happy teams they have there. and then it could raise his price to then sell to a mid tier team in a top league etc.

  7. Kid has some talent but also some serious deficiencies in his game that he needs to improve if he ever wants to make the 1st team at arsenal. Things he needs to improve 1) some type of ability with the left, right now he is so one sided it hurt the U.S. team 2) better fitness, he’s only a kid so he should keep working on it but he really faded in every game he started for the U.S. 3) add a bit more weight so he isn’t muscled off quite so easily.

    Needs a loan to play against men.

    • I only saw him against Serbia, but what worried me was his lack of commitment. He didn’t win 50-50 challenges or seem to work as hard as others. He also held the ball too long. From that game, I’m more excited about most of the other starters than about him.

      • being younger doesn’t mean you can’t at least TRY to win those 50/50 balls, i believe that was sandtrout’s point; i noticed it too that Zelalem seemed to “play like a star”. how many 50/50 balls do you see Ronaldo going for, lol? not comparing the two just giving an example of lack of commitment to 50/50 balls. it has nothing to do with age.

      • Physicality, size, strength, and speed edge goes to older players at that age. It is unreasonable to expect a slightly built, technical, creative player like Zezalem to be a Gattuso type ball winner and lunge into every 50-50 ball. This is not his game. He is more akin to Ozil and Ozil’s responsibility is different from winning 50-50 balls. Zezalem has an excellent first touch and is smooth on the ball with some flair and creativity. If you want to critique him, then critique him for not using his non-dominant foot more, which I think is his main weakness.

      • Gedion is 18. He qualifies for the next U20. Simmer down everyone.

        At the same age neither Ozil nor Xavi (slight players with good skill) were playing first team minutes or even on their countries U20 team.

        The kid has vision. He’ll get stronger and tougher. Give him 2 years. By then he’ll be getting serious senior team minutes.

      • I have similar concerns and have previously voiced them. I would also add, is he willing to play defense? He seemed to lack intensity and full commitment. As Jaime Escalante said in the movie Stand and Deliver, you need ganas (desire). He says the right things here, but is he willing to fully commit himself and work hard enough to improve his deficiencies? Or is he going to be another Feilhaber who doesn’t realize until he’s 30 that fitness and playing defense are important? Time will tell.

  8. There’s a long way between “he sometimes rides the bench for Arsenal” to the US senior team. Especially after you already committed.Ask Julian Green.

  9. His youth and inexperience showed, albeit with some potential for an Ozil-esque presence.

    There’s a lot more than hype here, but I agree that zelalem wouldn’t get the same messiah treatment in a country like Germany.

    But I think the gap between his “promise” and his production this tournament had more to do with our expectations than his. I also think this is why big clubs tap the US International hype machine to get a higher price on otherwise raw, flashy talent.

    • “There’s a lot more than hype here, but I agree that zelalem wouldn’t get the same messiah treatment in a country like Germany.”

      are you saying that Zelalem, specifically, wouldn’t (obvious) or that no one would get that treatment in Germany (false) ?

  10. It’s going to be extremely difficult for him to break into Arsenal’s first team this year.

    More then likely he’ll be loaned to a club that’ll commit to his development. Brentford have really good relations with Arsenal, so hopefully I’ll get to see him with my Bees!

    If he’s loaned to a league 1 club, then Millwall and Gillingham located in south London seem like potential clubs.

  11. It is painfully obvious that he needs minutes somewhere – and they are unlikely to come with the Gunners. The kid has a ton of ability, but is a bit indecisive in the final third and sometimes needs to get the pass out quicker. He will develop, folks need to be patient.

  12. Just like Julian Green, another overrated player. What’s the need to overhype kids who play reserve matches for clubs in Europe? Then folks wonder why USMNT has never won anything at the world stage; youth or senior level. This kid is delusional if he thinks he will get mins at Arsenal next season. Go on loan to League One.

    • Seriously? What do you want him to say? “I’m going to go back to Arsenal and realize I’m not good enough for the team, if I’m lucky I’ll get some minutes with a bad League One team” Gotta have confidence in your abilities and play your but off and hope for the best, anything else would be disappointing. Also, way too early to say Green or Zelalem won’t be good.

      • totally agree. it’s not the players who hype themselves; it’s the press and the interweb….and msg boards…like these.

      • You just posted a sewage of meaningless words. I thought I was following, but you lost me there. What do you mean? Zelalem and Green could be good? So can everyone in that team except garbage can Rubio.

      • I couldn’t figure out why our resident troll hates Rubio so much but then I remember he could’ve played for Mexico but chose the US instead. Now I understand the bitterness.

      • LOL “resident troll.”

        Actually, I believe Rubio made the right decision to play for US. He would’ve never made the Mexican team, let alone start at the U-20 World Cup.

    • Zelalem is just garbage at this moment. Maybe he’ll get better in the future, but we’ll have to wait and see. Remember Adu? Although the opposite he comes to mind. Good news is Zelalem is not the only garbage in this team, Rubio beats him handily. Steffen, Johnson and Arriola impressed me; some others have good potential too. All I can say is, our future as a CONCACAF powerhouse is cemented; don’t see anything beyond that.

      • He isn’t Freddy Adu.

        As a coach, I was sitting there watching Zelalem, sorta chewing my lip, trying to figure it out. He’s really close to being a dominant senior player, but there’s…something missing. I dunno. Desperation?

        He plays like a kid. Carefree. Relaxed. Laconic. Almost indifferent. Like he’s got all the time in the world, and the pressure of paychecks and status and all that mumbo-jumbo are something…far removed, from his current existence. A lot of that is good. In some ways, Lionel Messi still plays like that. The guy just…plays. There’s a purity to Messi’s game that is still (somehow) there despite all the goals he’s scored, all the games he’s played, all the money he’s made. Zelalem still has a lot of that.

        If he can still play like that at 20, but still have a 20-year-old’s vision and physicality, he’s going to be something amazing.

        I do agree he’s a ways off. But Klinsmann has not missed on him. I just have no idea how he’s going to get from point G…which is where he is right now…to that metaphorical “point X” and beyond. How do you both engage and challenge a guy that talented without crushing him? Trying to do that while also cracking into Arsenal’s starting lineup…wow. Tall order. Because there’s just a world of difference between the U20’s and an Arsenal starter.

        Posters here have not been wrong in their critiques, though. He needs more of a sense of urgency. He needs to get physically nastier in his challenges – though he’s got a good, disguised ball-poke, and can strip you before you realize he’s trying to do it – and he needs to get physically stronger. I’d like to see a faster first step – not just a LONGER one, since the guy has the physical leg-span of a 747, and can drive past you with his first step because most players have to take two steps to his one. I’d like to see him not just get knocked off the ball when somebody bodies him up. And while he’s clearly got a serious eye for the splitting ball, I’d like to see a guy who accomplishes a lot more on the field, not just bobs and weaves like Muhommed Ali and psyches everybody out. I get it dude. You’re crafty. Do more.

        He looks like the 18-year-old Arsenal Academy prodigy he is. I’d like to see an Arsenal first-teamer. And there’s a BIG jump there. You can see why Arsene Wenger wanted Klinsmann to get ahold of him…and why he was eyeing the U-20’s, the U-23’s, and the US Olympic squad as potential platforms for Zelalem to challenge himself and develop, but that ain’t enough. Zelalem could seriously use some regular PT at the right level, which is probably League One in England right now. I don’t think he’d even make a serious dent in MLS.

        He’s a prodigy. He’s also an unfinished one. And there’s a couple of jumps he’s going to have to make before he’s ready to contribute professionally, much less for the senior USMNT.

      • Couldn’t agree more. Also, finally, a post/response that does not accuse me of being a troll or a Mexican fan. For all of that:


      • He knows you’re a Mexico troll, just like everyone else does. It just wasn’t relevant to his comment.

      • El Comandante, I would appreciate your analysis of Mexican U20 team players after they finished last in their group. If Zezalem is “garbage” in your eyes, I can’t wait to hear your assessment of Mexican youth players after their abysmal performance.

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