PHILADELPHIA -- If and when Arsenal prospect Gedion Zelalem becomes eligible to play for the United States, he'll walk straight into Jurgen Klinsmann's first-choice squad, the U.S. coach confirmed on Wednesday.
"I think he's already at a level that he can definitely play on the senior team," Klinsmann said of the 18-year old. "He's a special player."
Zelalem has yet to play in a Premier League match for the Gunners, but he has made appearances for the club in other competitions, including a 45-minute cameo off the bench in a Champions League tilt against Galatasaray in December.
The midfielder, who was born in Germany but lived in Maryland for seven years and attended high school there before signing with Arsenal in 2013, officially became an American citizen later that month.
He still needs a FIFA exception to be eligible to play for the U.S., though. In January, US Soccer president Sunil Gulati told ESPN FC that he was hoping the player would be green-lighted by April.
"The process is ongoing," US Soccer spokesman Neil Buethe told ESPN FC on Thursday. "There's no update at this time."
If approved, Zelalem would immediately become a candidate to start for the U.S. at the under-20 World Cup in New Zealand this summer and, if the Americans qualify, for the U-23s at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
But he would begin his U.S. career with Klinsmann's team.
"I want to see how he interacts with the whole group and what level he is. Definitely I would like to see him with me first," said Klinsmann, who was in town ahead the announcement of the Yanks' group opponents for this summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup.