NEW YORK (AP) U.S. coach Tab Ramos left a spot open on his roster for the Under-20 World Cup, hoping to add Gedion Zelalem if FIFA allows the Arsenal midfielder to play for the Americans.
The 18-year-old Zelalem was born in Germany to Ethiopian parents and lived in Maryland for six years before going to Arsenal’s youth academy when he was 16. He has appeared twice for the Gunners, both times as a second-half substitute: against Coventry in an FA Cup game Jan. 24, 2014, and versus Galatasaray in the Champions League last Dec. 9.
Zelalem obtained U.S. citizenship in December, and the U.S. Soccer Federation applied to FIFA to make him eligible for its national team system.
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”I’ve only seen pretty much in general on YouTube. … Our assistant coach was there last week watching him play against West Brom,” Ramos said Thursday. ”He’s a creative player, and those are the players that I like.”
Ramos announced 20 players and must submit a 21-man roster to FIFA by May 15. He said if Zelalem isn’t eligible, the spot would go to Philadelphia midfielder Zach Pfeffer.
The roster includes Utrecht forward Rubio Rubin, who has made three appearances for the senior U.S. national team; 17-year-old Tottenham youth academy defender Cameron Carter-Vickers; Fulham midfielder Emerson Hyndman; New York Red Bulls defender Matthew Miazga; and Los Angeles Galaxy defender Bradford Jamieson IV.
Dallas midfielder Kellyn Acosta and Freiburg goalkeeper Zack Steffen also were on the roster for the 2013 Under-20 World Cup.
Ramos said the pool had deepened considerably in the last two years, and he thinks many of the players will compete for spots on the under-23 team that will go to Olympic qualifying in October.
”It’s kind of the beginning of us starting to be like a soccer nation,” said Ramos, a member of three U.S. World Cup teams in the 1990s.
Forward Julian Green, who scored against Belgium last summer at the World Cup, was ineligible for selection because he played for Germany in qualifying for the 2014 European Under-19 Championship. Reading refused to release forward Andrija Novakovich, wanting him to get offseason rest.
”For me, it’s a missed opportunity,” Ramos said. ”Hopefully, we can get him involved down the road when he’s ready.”
The U.S. finished fourth at the 1989 tournament and reached the quarterfinals in 1993, 2003 and 2007. Tottenham goalkeeper Brad Friedel will be part of Ramos’ staff in New Zealand.
Players start reporting May 14 to Carson, California, and the team leaves two days later for a training camp in Australia and exhibition games against the Socceroos on May 19 and Serbia five days later. The U.S. opens the first round against Myanmar on May 30, plays host New Zealand on June 2 and finishes the first round against Ukraine on June 5.
Two years ago, the Americans were eliminated in the first round after losses to Spain and Ghana around a tie with France.
Goalkeepers: Jeff Caldwell (University of Virginia), Ethan Horvath (Molde, Norway), Zack Steffen (Freiburg, Germany)
Defenders: Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham, England), Matthew Miazga (New York Red Bulls), Shaquell Moore (no club), Erik Palmer-Brown (Kansas City), Desevio Payne (Groningen, Netherlands), John Requejo (Tijuana, Mexico)
Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (Dallas), Paul Arriola (Tijuana, Mexico), Russell Canouse (Hoffenheim, Germany), Marco Delgado (Toronto), Emerson Hyndman (Fulham, England), Joel Sonora (Boca Juniors, Argentina)
Forwards: Jordan Allen (Salt Lake), Bradford Jamieson IV (Los Angeles), Rubio Rubin (Utrecht, Netherlands), Maki Tall (Red Star, France), Tommy Thompson (San Jose)