Gedion Zelalem is heading back to the United States in a bid to resurrect his injury-hit career, joining Sporting Kansas City on a free transfer from Premier League side Arsenal, the MLS club announced on Monday.
The 22-year-old central midfielder has struggled to get his career going since suffering a torn ACL while playing for the U.S. Under-20 national team at the 2017 Under-20 World Cup. He spent parts of six years at Arsenal after being signed as a youth prospect.
Born in Berlin to Ethiopian parents, Zelalem eventually settled in the United States as a child in 2006, establishing himself as a youth soccer star in the Washington D.C. area. He was spotted by Arsenal scouts in 2013 and, after joining the Gunners' academy, signed a pro contract a year later.
Zelalem's first-team career at Arsenal was limited to cameos in the UEFA Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup, but he never played in a Premier League match for the Gunners. Zelalem did take part in various preseason tours with the club, and eventually went on a successful loan stint with Rangers FC in the 2015-2016 season, when the club won the Scottish second division title and gained promotion to the top flight. Zelalem last played competitive matches while on loan with Dutch second-division side VVV Venlo in 2017, helping the club win the league.
The summer of 2017 was supposed to be a turning point for Zelalem, who was set to feature on the U.S. Under-20 World Cup team, but he suffered a torn ACL in the team's first match of the World Cup, an injury that eventually left him sidelined for the better part of 16 months.
Zelalem recently returned to action with Arsenal's Under-23 team, earning regular minutes for the first time in two years.
Known for his long frame, technical quality and passing skills, Zelalem quickly became a U.S. youth national team sensation after securing his U.S. citizenship. He played for the U.S. Under-23 national team in Olympic qualifying in 2015 as one of the younger players on the team, and was a starter in the U.S. Under-20 World Cup team in 2017 before his injury.
Zelalem now joins a Sporting KC side that boasts one of the best teams, and deepest midfields, in MLS. A team that can afford to bring him along slowly as he works to regain the sharpness that made him such a highly-regarded prospect.
“Gedion is a talented player and we are excited to welcome him to the club,” Sporting KC Manager and Sporting Director Peter Vermes said. “We look forward to his integration into the squad as the team competes in multiple competitions throughout the season.”
Sporting KC is currently competing in the Concacaf Champions League, and will look to overcome a 2-1 first-leg deficit against Panamanian side Independiente when the teams meet on Thursday.