Zelalem makes initial mark with U.S. U20s

The USA's Gedion Zelalem (blue jersey) in FIFA U-20 World Cup action against host New Zealand on June 2, 2015 in Auckland. (Photo: FIFA via Getty Images)

AUCKLAND, New Zealand – In his first start for the United States, Gedion Zelalem was impressive, helping the Americans to a comprehensive 4-0 win over host New Zealand in the FIFA U-20 World Cup on Tuesday.

The 18-year-old Arsenal midfielder showed poise on the ball and slotted a perfect pass to Paul Arriola for the third goal as the USA earned passage into the knockout round.

“I think Gedion did a great job,” said U.S. head coach Tab Ramos, who played in the 1983 edition of the same competition as a 16-year-old.  “He’s born in ’97, he’s a younger player and we’re not afraid to put him in because he wants the ball.  I tell the players on the team that I always want to have guys on the field who want the ball and I think he showed himself well.” 

Still, Ramos was wary of heaping too much praise on the German-born, Maryland-raised teenager.

“I’m excited about his future with us, but it’s one game,” Ramos expressed.  “We’ll take it one game at a time.”

Part of the reason Zelalem felt so comfortable was the bond he has already formed with his new teammates, especially the squad’s captain Emerson Hyndman, a midfielder with Fulham, as well as Toronto FC midfielder Marco Delgado. 

“I think me and Emerson combined very well,” Zelalem said. “He’s a pleasure to play with. We’ve played two games, but I feel like we’ve played together for a year or two.  And all the other guys, Marky in the midfield – the defensive threat he gives us, and he gives us the ball early and so we try to do our best on the offensive end.” 

The U.S., which opened a U-20 World Cup with two victories for the first-ever time, can clinch first place in Group A with a win or tie against the Ukraine in their final group match on Friday.

Zelalem is hoping for another performance like the one against the All Whites.

“When everyone is feeling it, it’s great,” he finished.  “Everyone’s excited, everyone’s enjoying soccer – that’s the best way to play.”