The two players are the two youngest players on the U.S. World Cup team, but on Tuesday night they were two of the most impressive players in the loss to Belgium.SALVADOR, Brazil — When Jurgen Klinsmann named DeAndre Yedlin and Julian Green to the 2014 U.S. World Cup roster back in May, the move was seen as a nod to the future, though potentially one coming too early for a pair of players with less than two combined years of professional soccer experience between them.
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On Tuesday, Yedlin and Green showed the world why Klinsmann took a chance on them, and in the process they provided two of the few bright spots for the Americans an a largely disappointing night.
Green made his World Cup debut a memorable one, racing into a lofted Michael Bradley pass and volleying him the lone U.S. goal of the night, which nearly sparked an improbable comeback.
The Bayern Munich prospect was a handful for the Belgians for the full 15 minutes of the second half of extra time.
"Julian was growing at a very fast speed in the last seven weeks, and we guided him through that process,” Klinsmann said. “If the occasion [to put him into a match] had been there already we would have done that.
“I knew that the moment would come today, but then the injury to Fabian early, and issues at other positions delayed it and delayed it because when you go into extra time you want to make sure you're not making the third sub too early.”
Green, 19, became the youngest American to appear in a World Cup, let alone score a goal, and his first touch gave the team life after Belgium’s two goals appeared to end all hope. He wasn’t done there, going at the Belgium defense on a handful of occasions.
“We knew that he was ready,” Klinsmann said. “I told him before the game to watch the No. 2, read him, have a specific eye on him and he knew that he might get this chance today. It was just phenomenal how he came in and scored that goal and gets us back now and then we just need a little bit more luck to get the second one and that was not the case. It's fun to watch that kid grow.”
“I’m 19-year-old so the experience of a World Cup is very important for me,” Green said after the match. “I have it now in my head and it’s very important to me.
“I’m really looking forward to playing with this team,” Green added. “I have to give my best on the field and show everybody how good I am.”
Yedlin came on for injured starting right back Fabian Johnson in the 32nd minute and faced the daunting task of trying to deal with Belgian star Eden Hazard. The Seattle Sounders defender stood up to the challenge and also flashed his blazing speed, surging into the attack on multiple occasions.
“He’s fearless. He gets forward. He’s strong, he’s fast,” Tim Howard said of Yedlin. “(Eden) Hazard is no cake walk and I thought he handled him really, really well. Obviously, as the team got tired, we opened up, but when you talk about 1-on-1, he won those battles.”
“We’re just a little bit unlucky not to get on the end of one of those crosses,” Dempsey said of his Seattle teammate. “I thought he played well this World Cup and he has a bright future.”
For Yedlin, the experience was an eye opener. Having appeared as a second-half substitute as a midfielder during the group stage, Yedlin made the most of his longest appearance of the World Cup, and surely turned the heads of scouts who will marvel at his speed and young age (20).
“I just tried to go out and play the best I could,” Yedlin said. “I knew if I get intimidated, then I’m not going to be at my best. I think, at times, it can be hard not to be intimidated by it because these are guys that you’ve grown up watching and admiring and that you’re inspired by, but at the end of the day you’re on the same field and they’re your opponent. They’re your enemy now. You’ve got to give it your all to beat them.”
Yedlin admitted that he, Green and John Brooks have developed a bond after spending training camp and the World Cup together. As the three youngest members of the team, the trio should be the centerpieces of the U.S. Olympic team in 2016, and could be teammates at the 2018 World Cup if things go well.
“It’s a great relationship. I think it took us about two or three days to really become a tight group,” Yedlin said. “We call ourselves the Young Guns. We have to stick together because we’re going to be the next generation hopefully. We try to stick together, while obviously trying to mingle with the older guys. We’ve created a great bond and they’re going to be lifelong friends.”
With Brooks having scored the winning goal against Ghana, Green scoring against Belgium and Yedlin enjoying an overall impressive World Cup, the experiences gained by the trio in Brazil should bode well down the road for the U.S. team.
“It’s huge for the future,” Yedlin said. “I think it gives everybody confidence and it instills their trust in us, all the fans and the coaches, which is great because having that is huge for us and huge for our confidence. With Julian being great tonight and John, obviously, against Ghana, it’s amazing and I’m excited.”