Julian Green: Who Is USMNT's Youngest World Cup Call-Up?

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Julian Green: Who Is USMNT's Youngest World Cup Call-Up?
Rock Scuteri/AP Images

Landon Donovan is out, Julian Green is in and the United States soccer community is buzzing in reaction.

But now, on the verge of the biggest event in world football, come the questions. Who, exactly, is the new kid on the team? And why was he included despite an almost nonexistent professional record, with other, more proven options available?

When United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann named his 23-man roster for the 2014 FIFA World Cup on Thursday, fans and media alike were surprised to note the absence of Donovan, a veteran of three previous Cups and perhaps the program's best-ever player.

In leaving out Donovan, Klinsmann likely signaled the end of an era. Donovan, 32, is the team's all-time leading scorer, having led the U.S. to the quarterfinals in 2002 and the second round—thanks to his memorable goal against Algeria—eight years later.

But in the years to come, Klinsmann's announcement could be remembered equally for his inclusion of Green, an 18-year-old attacker—he turns 19 on June 6—with dual German and American citizenship. In fact, it's almost certain that Green's call-up will become a landmark moment in USMNT history, with the main questions being how and why we remember it.

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To hear Klinsmann tell it, Green has as much potential as any American player, perhaps ever. Speaking to ESPN FC last fall, Klinsmann called Green a "tremendous talent" and said he and his staff had been scouting the youngster for more than two years. "We believe we could help him grow into a special player," Klinsmann added.

On the other hand, Green is raw and untested, and selecting the experienced Donovan—though the two were not in direct competition for a roster spot—would have been a safer bet. For all of Green's potential, there is always the chance he could sit on the bench throughout the tournament, a situation similar to what a then-17-year-old Theo Walcott experienced with England in 2006.

Klinsmann's decision was as bold as it was risky. B/R's Dan Levy criticized it, arguing that Klinsmann is looking toward the "distant future" more than the present. Former U.S. defender Jimmy Conrad pointed out via Twitter the vast discrepancy between the two players and their accomplishments.

So who is Julian Green? Why would Klinsmann risk so much on an 18-year-old with precious little professional experience and only one cap to his name?

 

Bayern Munich hopeful

Green currently plays his club football for Germany's most famous club, Bayern Munich, whose senior side strolled to the Bundesliga title each of the past two seasons. But while playing for Bayern makes for an impressive entry on any player's resume, it's important to note that Green has not—at least yet—made a lasting impression on the first team.

This past season, the 18-year-old made two senior appearances for Bayern, per ESPN FC, with his debut coming against CSKA Moscow in the UEFA Champions League. He entered the match in the 88th minute, limiting his opportunities to make an impact.

Bayern's website lists Green as a forward among the junior team, though the professional contract he signed last year demonstrates the club's commitment to developing him as a player. According to Kicker.de (in German) Green scored 15 goals in 23 league matches in the Regionalliga Bayern (the fourth tier of football in Germany) during the 2013-14 season.

If that sounds like a spotty resume, it is. As SB Nation's Kevin McCauley notes, only Klinsmann and Bayern Munich's coaches have had a proper opportunity to evaluate Green. The upside is that all the early indications seem to be positive. Green has played well for Bayern's second team and was courted by an international powerhouse like Germany, at least according to ESPN FC.

But as of now, Green is an unknown quantity at the senior level.

 

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

Dual nationality

As reported by USA Today's Nate Scott, Green was born in Tampa, Florida, to an American father and a German mother. Green moved to Germany with his mother as a toddler and divided time between Germany and Florida.

Green represented both Germany and the United States at the youth level but was tied to Germany's national team as late as March 2014, when he petitioned FIFA for a one-time switch to represent the U.S. FIFA granted the request, and Green made his debut for the Yanks on April 2.

A second-half substitute, Green entered the match in the 59th minute of what turned out to be an eventful 2-2 draw with Mexico. USA Today's Kelly Whiteside described the 30-minute cameo as "uneven," but Klinsmann said Green showed hints of what he can do on a football pitch:

You saw in some moments what this kid is actually capable to do, how he goes in the box, draws two guys and should have gotten the penalty. Obviously he was nervous to play his first cap in front of 60,000 against Mexico, here and there you slip, lose your balance like it happened once there.

But the team welcomed him with open arms. When you are among other players you check each other out, and within 10 minutes (you know) whether he's a good player or not. Julian is a very good player.

 

Divided opinion

For all his potential, Green's inclusion in the U.S. World Cup roster has divided opinion among pundits and fans.

Cristian Nyari, a B/R contributor and editor-in-chief of the Bundesliga Fanatic, tweeted that Klinsmann's decision to include Green signaled a focus on the future—a similar approach Klinsmann took when he managed an unheralded, youthful German side to the World Cup semifinals in 2006.

On the other hand, Orlando Sentinel reporter Paul Tenorio questioned whether Donovan's exclusion would upset the balance within the team.

Finally, as Los Angeles Times writer Steven Zeitchik pointed out, Klinsmann's decision was nothing if not bold.

Regardless, Green's inclusion will serve as a compelling talking point as the U.S. continues preparations for the World Cup, which begins in less than three weeks. Now it's up to Green to show he belongs.

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