Could Arsenal’s teenage phenom play for U.S.?

Gedion Zelalem USOver the next few days, weeks, months, probably years, you are going to hear a lot about Gedion Zelalem.

He is the 16-year-old Arsenal central midfielder who, while playing for the English club’s first team in preseason, mesmerized unsuspecting observers with his vision, touch and distribution. Without pause, he drew comparisons to Cesc Fabregas, a Spanish innovator with corresponding characteristics who debuted for the Gunners’ senior squad at the same age 10 years ago.

From Pele to Lionel Messi, teenage phenoms have tickled the soccer world for decades.

Zelalem is different from most because:

– He was not nurtured in a prominent academy.

– Until this past spring, his name was largely unknown, even in Arsenal circles.

– He was raised in Germany but draws from family roots in Ethiopia, a nation of 91 million that adores the sport but has never qualified for the World Cup and reached the African Cup of Nations once in the past 20 years. Already, he is inspiring young Ethiopians.

There is something else unique about Zelalem: He sharpened his skills between ages 9 and 15 in the Washington suburbs, playing for an elite club team, Olney Rangers. He also served on Walter Johnson High School’s varsity squad as a freshman in the fall of 2011, earning honorable mention All-Met honors after the Wildcats advanced to the Maryland state final.

A year ago, he was hanging out with friends at Montgomery Mall. Today, he is traveling the world with Arsenal star Theo Walcott and creating a buzz in north London. Read more

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