Potentially “big” news for the U.S. National Team began to circulate around the Internet last Friday night: Bayern Munich 18-year-old winger Julian Green chose to represent the USMNT instead of Germany at the senior international level. German newspaper Bild reported the news and rumors began to swirl that U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann promised Green — who was born in Tampa but moved to Germany at a young age — a place on the 23-man roster for Brazil, among other things.
By the start of the new week, we found out this “report” wasn’t entirely accurate — shocker.
What we know, officially and without the reliance of Google Translate, is Green simply will train with the U.S. National Team for two days in Frankfurt, Germany, ahead of the team’s scheduled friendly at Ukraine on March 5. That’s a far cry from Green declaring to join the United States Men’s National Team. He won’t travel to Ukraine (assuming the game goes through given the unrest in the nation) for the game and would not be eligible to play without submitting a one-time change of associations with FIFA due to his participation with the German U-19 team. Klinsmann & Co. tried to rope Green into training with the USMNT in November, but that fell through. Ultimately, this isn’t a huge development. Encouraging, yes, but by no means does it wrap up Green’s international future.
Many U.S. supporters are (sigh) still touchy after players such as Giuseppe Rossi and Nevan Subotic fell through the cracks and ended up representing Italy and Serbia respectively. The Klinsmann regime remains proactive, seeking out dual-nationals with the potential to represent the U.S. such as potential starting World Cup striker Aron Johannsson, along with others like Fabian Johnson and John Brooks.
Part, if not all, of Green’s allure can be chalked up to the fact he plays at Bayern — the reigning UEFA Champions League winners and arguably the best team in Europe at the moment. Green has only featured once for the senior team — a brief three-minute cameo vs. CSKA Moscow in the Champions League — but he’s scored 15 times in 18 games for Bayern Munich II since 2013. So, no matter if 99.9 percent of American soccer fans have never seen Green play beyond 15 seconds of a YouTube highlight, he is discussed a player the U.S. Soccer Federation desperately needs to convince to join the red, white and blue.
Despite the success achieved by players such as Clint Dempsey, Brad Friedel, Steve Cherundolo, et al in Europe, an American international suiting up for one of the world’s truly elite clubs remains a U.S. Soccer white whale, increasing the appeal of Green.
The highlights are indeed enticing. Although he’s only 5-foot-8 and plays more as a winger than out-and-out striker, that dribbling and ability to dart around the penalty area aren’t exactly qualities with which the current U.S. team is overflowing. Plus, it can’t hurt that he’s rubbing shoulders with the likes of Franck Ribery, Thiago and Thomas Müller in training every day. The influence of Bayern coach Pep Guardiola is another positive.
Now, this isn’t to say Green wouldn’t help the U.S. team, but putting a ton of stock in a teenager player isn’t always the best idea. In Soccernomics, Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski wrote about the “correct” age to discover soccer prospects in a chapter about youth development at France’s Olympic Lyon. From page 70:
“Only a handful of world-class players in each generation, most of them creators — Pele, Maradona, Wayne Rooney — reach the top before they are 18. Most players get there considerably later. You can be confident of their potential only when they are more mature.”
The book, unfortunately, cites famed American soccer flop Freddy Adu who never lived up the hype he generated as a 14-year-old. Adu, though, never played for a club as prestigious as Bayern. There’s a huge difference playing for DC United — aided by MLS’s thirst for media exposure back in 2004 — compared to Green cracking the Bayern lineup, albeit it briefly.
You could go through any U-17 or U-20 roster for the U.S. — or any country — and pick out plenty of players who’ve never materialized. I arbitrarily went through the rosters of the 2009 U-20 World Cup and it’s astounding how five years later so few impact players it produced. Take England’s 23 players for that tournament, the only guy to make even a marginal (if that) impact on the Premier League level is Liverpool defender Martin Kelly.
Could Green help the U.S. down the road? Possibly. Would he be an impact player in June? Unlikely. Even Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley were at least 20 when they burst onto the international scene at the 2002 World Cup.
Let’s look at the choice from Green’s perspective. It’d be harder to break into the Germany lineup — although the team will need a reliable striker once Miroslav Klose retires — but he’d have a much better shot to win a major tournament than he would playing for the United States. Beyond that, if he identifies with his American roots — his father follows every Bayern match — maybe he feels a tie to playing for the USMNT.
If somehow Klinsmann — doing his best college football coach recruiting impression — is able to whisper enough sweet nothings into Green’s ear during training and convince him his international future lies with the USMNT and not Germany it would represent a coup, although a coup that is more likely to pay dividends in 2018 compared to this June.