Julian Green's decision to file a one-time switch and commit to playing for the U.S. national team made Jurgen Klinsmann a happy man, but what does it mean for the USA long term?
That might seem like a slight overreaction for landing the commitment of an 18-year-old who isn’t even playing regular minutes as a professional, but make no mistake, landing Green is a significant moment in Klinsmann’s tenure.
Green is a legitimate top-level prospect, a player Pep Guardiola has enough confidence in to bring into a UEFA Champions League match for his club debut. Green is still a prospect, a lump of very promising clay waiting to be molded, but his qualities and high profile made him the kind of player who could anchor the next generation of the U.S. national team.
That is, If that lump of clay transforms into the star player both Bayern Munich and Klinsmann are hoping he can become.
“It means a lot to us because this is one of the biggest talents coming through European football right now,” Klinsmann said of Green.
So how talented is he? Green is highly technical, very fast, boasts a strong left foot and the qualities to play as a left winger or second striker. He showed an ability to finish chances during his time in Germany’s lower divisions, and with the prospects of being coached and mentored by a manager like Guardiola, Green boasts a path to potential stardom unlike that of any other teenager in the U.S. national team player pool.
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The excitement over landing Green’s services isn’t really about the 2014 World Cup, even though there is a very good chance Klinsmann could use a roster spot on him. The real excitement lies in the future, and opportunity Green will have to be a key figure on the U.S. Olympic team in 2016, and World Cup team in 2018, when Green will be 22 on a U.S. team that will most likely be heading toward its first World Cup without Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey since 1998
Landing Green is also a nice feather in the cap for Klinsmann, who has already secured the services of an impressive list of dual nationals, from Fabian Johnson to Terrence Boyd to Aron Johannsson. The Green one is arguably the most important of the bunch because of his potential for high-level success and what that could mean for the entire national team program.
As Klinsmann has made clear, not having any American players competing on high-level UEFA Champions League teams is a problem for the national team, and the USA needs to start having players reach that level. At the moment, there aren’t any players on the cusp of reaching that level.
Enter Green, who could not only develop into an elite national team player, but also a UEFA Champions League participant who can serve as an inspiration for a very talented crop of young Americans coming up the youth national team pipeline. There is growing buzz about the upcoming U.S. Under-17 National Team, which could boast the most skilled collection of talent since Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley lead the U-17s in 1999.
Klinsmann surely knows about the talent on the way, as well as up-and-comers like recent U.S. Under-20 standouts Luis Gil and DeAndre Yedlin. Having signed a contract to be U.S. head coach through the 2018 World Cup, you have to imagine he is already planning for the future and sees Green as potentially being the star player to build his team around down the road.
Along those lines, Klinsmann couldn’t really afford to miss out on top-level prospect, and neither could the U.S. national team, which counts Giuseppe Rossi and Neven Subotic as potential stars who could have played for the United States but wound up representing other countries.
Green could have become Klinsmann’s lost star, but instead he has become the latest testament to Klinsmann’s charismatic ability to convince players to play for the United States. And even though Green’s not the first dual national that Klinsmann has convinced, he is certainly the most high-profile one.
And what of this summer’s World Cup? Did Klinsmann promise Green a place on the team already? Based on Green’s public comments, he believes he has a chance to make the team, though nothing is guaranteed.
“The coaches have shown a lot of trust in me, and now I hope to do everything I can to earn a spot on the World Cup roster,” Green said in a statement released by U.S. Soccer.
Assuming Klinsmann hasn’t already penciled him in for a ticket to Brazil, how realistic are Green’s chances of making the U.S. World Cup squad? That depends on what you think of the pool’s current wing options. Landon Donovan, Alejandro Bedoya and Graham Zusi all look like good bets for roster spots, but there’s a pretty wide-open race for the fourth wing midfield spot (with there being a potential for a fifth spot if Klinsmann chooses to bring three forwards instead of four).
Brad Davis and Brek Shea are in the running for the spot, and Klinsmann’s continued interest in using Fabian Johnson in a wing midfield slot suggests he’s not completely happy with his options, particularly on the left wing.
Enter Green, who could be seen as a good change-of-pace option on the left flank, assuming he shows well in the coming months. He will have his first chance to impress when the U.S. takes on Mexico on April 2 (assuming his one-time association switch is approved by then). After that, Green should earn a look in the May pre-World Cup camp, where Klinsmann will be able to see how he compares to the other options.
If Green looks the part — and the rest of the national team will surely be able to tell if he’s ready — then Green could very well make the World Cup team, but even if Green falls short of the 23-man roster, it won’t change his standing as one of the best young prospects in the U.S. national team pool. Klinsmann may be the one celebrating on Tuesday night, but U.S. national team fans could be the ones celebrating Green’s commitment for years to come.