During last night's USA-Mexico friendly, USMNT fans finally got a glimpse of Julian Green, the 18-year-old superstar-in-the-making(?) who spurned Germany to play for the US. The massive excitement at his arrival is matched only by the massive amount we don't know about him. Who is this guy? Is he really that good? What does this mean for the USMNT? Let's see if we can come up with some answers.
Is this exciting?
Damn straight, it's exciting! America somehow stole a potential wunderkind winger right from the clutches of Germany, and last night we got to revel in the conquest. It wasn't the most electric of first impressions, but that would've been too much to ask from a teenager in the biggest game of his life. Still, he's now repping the Stars and Stripes, and we get to watch the evolution of a guy who could become a truly elite player. That's enough to keep the butterflies fluttering.
Who is he?
Like so many of the USMNT's dual-national players, Julian Green is a product of this great nation's military-industrial complex. His father, Jerry Green, was in the US military and stationed in Germany. His German mother met Jerry in her native land, yada yada yada, eventually the couple got married and had two kids, Justin and Julian. Justin was born in Germany, but by the time Julian came around, the family had moved to Tampa. When Julian was young, he moved back with his mom to Germany, while his dad and brother stayed in America. (His parents would eventually divorce, but Julian would often return stateside to reunite with his father and brother.)
Back in Munich, the kid cultivated his soccer skills. A young Julian impressed for local clubs before getting picked up by German juggernaut Bayern Munich in 2010. In the years since, the American (damn, it feels good to say that) has continued to dazzle his Bayern bosses with the pace and technical ability that got him noticed in the first place, and he signed a full-time contract with the club as soon as he turned 18. The German program thought highly enough of him that he was brought into the youth fold in 2011, and earned 11 caps in their colors.
Of course, an American-born player impressing for Bayern Munich and Germany piqued the USMNT's interest, but Julian's dad has said the pre-Jürgen Klinsmann regime never seemed to make his son a priority. With a fellow German, fellow Bayern forward, and fellow ditcher of Germany for the Red, White, and Blue in charge, though, Green had a man who not only understood his situation, but desperately wanted him on his side.
So a couple years, some impassioned recruiting, and one dream of the World Cup in Brazil later, and Julian Green is back with the Americans. America über alles!
Why all the hype?
Did I mention that he plays for Bayern Munich? You know, the Yankees of soccer superpower Germany? Hands down the best and deepest team in the world, run by Pep Guardiola, the world's most revered manager? And said manager is a big fan? The same manager who believed in the young talents of Cesc Fàbregas, Thiago Alcântara, and some guy named Lionel Messi? A manager whose belief is so strong that he's included the teen in first-team training sessions, matchday squads, and even gave him a couple minutes as a sub in the Champions League? Yeah, the hype might make some sense.
Julian Green is the best American prospect since Giuseppe Rossi, who is probably the best American soccer player of all time. (Ah, the ones that get away...) But—and here's the rub—he's also the most loudly hyped player since Freddy Adu. Rossi has largely lived up to the hype as an elite goal scorer and a no-brainer Italian national team starter when healthy. Adu, at 24, is currently out of a contract.
Well then, is he more Giuseppe Rossi or Freddy Adu?
It's impossible to say at this point. The positive is that he's already achieved way more than Adu had when he broke the American sports press by turning pro as a 14-year-old. Adu was all projection. Green at least has reached the developmental stage where you'd be shocked if he wasn't at least still playing professionally at 24. But to fulfill that promise, as Rossi has, he's going to need playing time.
Like most players that have risen through the youth ranks of a superclub, Green dreams to become a full-time Bayern player. But despite the Guardiola vote of confidence, there's absolutely no chance Green will see significant minutes any time soon in Munich. He's naturally a goal scoring winger, in the mold of a Cristiano Ronaldo or teammate Arjen Robben. (In the mold, guys. I'm not saying he's the next Ronaldo. Not that that's out of the question...)
Unfortunately for him, Bayern is ridiculously stacked out wide. When healthy, they have the aforementioned Robben and Franck Ribéry. Also vying for time there—or in behind the striker, as Bayern switch pretty evenly between playing a 4-3-3 and a 4-2-3-1—are Mario Götze, Thomas Müller, and Xherdan Shaqiri. That's two European standards who will be around for at least the next couple years, then a few under-25 studs waiting in the wings. On top of that, there is fellow teenaged wing phenom Mitchell Weiser. At best, Green is a solid substitute/rotation option there two years from now, and that's assuming that Munich doesn't further stack the position in the meantime.
Instead, he'll likely go out on loan somewhere within the next couple years. There, if he can continue along the developmental path he seems to be on, maybe he can stave off a hypothetical Julian Draxler or Marco Reus transfer and fight for a starting position of his own. The promise of an American youngster impressing at a club like Bayern is inextricably tied to the reality of how big a challenge it will be for playing time.
OK, limitless potential, but a long trail to realize it. What's this mean for the USMNT now?
That's also a difficult question. As of a couple weeks ago, I would have never in a million years thought a player of his pedigree would slum it with us Americans instead of pushing for a spot on a perennial world force. Yes, that carrot of going to Brazil would be enticing, but what seemed more mouth-watering was really challenging to win the Cup in either Russia or Qatar (or wherever they move it to in 2022, since one international organization believes Qatar's World Cup will take more lives than 9/11).