Gedion Zelalem will look to rejuvenate his career in MLS with Sporting Kansas City.

By Avi Creditor
March 11, 2019

It wasn't long ago that Gedion Zelalem was U.S. Soccer's "next big thing," destined for stardom after beginning to break through with Arsenal's first team. A few injury- and loan-laden years later, he'll hope to rejuvenate his still-budding career with Sporting Kansas City.

The MLS side signed the 22-year-old Zelalem from Arsenal on a permanent transfer on Monday, bringing him to Children's Mercy Park on a deal through the end of the season that includes club options for 2020 and 2021.

"Gedion is a talented player and we are excited to welcome him to the club," Sporting KC manager and sporting director Peter Vermes said in a statement. "We look forward to his integration into the squad as the team competes in multiple competitions throughout the season."

Born in Germany to Ethiopian parents, Zelalem became eligible for the USA when his father gained citizenship before Gedion turned 18 (under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000), and he rose to prominence on the youth scene outside of Washington, D.C., before his move to Arsenal. He had represented Germany on the youth level a couple of times before beginning to play for the USA ahead of the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup. His choice to represent the USA was seen as a major coup for U-20 coach Tab Ramos and then-senior-team-coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

Injuries and difficulty in breaking through at Arsenal stunted his climb, though. Zelalem spent 2015-2016 on loan at Rangers in Scotland and the latter half of the 2016-2017 season on loan at Venlo in the Netherlands, but he tore his ACL in the opening game at the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup and has been on the road to recovery ever since.

"He is a player with a good eye and good technique and is very agile," Arsene Wenger told SI.com about Zelalem in 2014. "He has the ambition to find the ball on the field. So he's the kind of player who could be of use to the United States. He's in some ways the type of player the U.S. was missing in the World Cup.

"He is potentially an international player, for sure. But the next two or three years he will have to show he has the mental qualities to fill that potential. That's what's at stake for him now. If he grows physically, since he's slim, and continues to develop his mentality, the potential is there for him to be a top professional player."

Sporting Kansas City will hope the potential for is still there. Zelalem joins a crowded midfield, one just boosted by the offseason signing of Kelyn Rowe and the rise of 16-year-old Gianluca Busio.

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