Should Bayern Munich starlet Julian Green have a place on the USMNT’s plane to Brazil?
Julian Green‘s switch to the United States and inclusion in the squad for Wednesday night’s 2-2 friendly draw with Mexico brought much excitement to followers of the U.S. Men’s National Team. It also brought a lot of hype for an unknown quantity to the larger American public.
Given the fervor with which USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann chased the Bayern Munich starlet and how quickly he brought him into the fold, there is no questioning the belief Klinsmann has in the 18-year-old.
After a nervy entrance coming on for his USMNT senior debut in the 59th minute in front of 59,006 at the University of Phoenix Stadium, Green flashed potential that could lead him to be an important player in the years to come on the international level.
Green showed his comfort on the ball and his ability to take on players, drawing what should have been a foul late in the match just outside the Mexico penaltybox that went uncalled by referee Roberto Moreno.
For the positive play Green showcased, the inexperience at the international level was also on display. The young midfielder failed to continue tracking Paul Aguilar and his shot from inside the box caromed off the far post and into the path of Alan Pulido, who tapped home for the equalizer.
Although there is no questioning the talent Green has and the player he can be, does he warrant a place in the 23-man squad that will travel to Brazil for the World Cup?
The group Klinsmann brings to Brazil this summer will all need to be able to contribute. Green has very limited experience at the international level and is currently plying his trade with the Bayern Munich reserves in the fourth rung of the German soccer pyramid.
If the U.S. need a goal late on to draw or to win either in the group stages or further in the tournament, is Green going to be someone Klinsmann will want to call on in that situation? With spots in a 23-man crucial, if Green is on the roster than Klinsmann must believe he can make some sort of an impact in the summer of 2014.
One reason Klinsmann can not give for including Green in the squad is in order to gain experience moving forward. With the U.S. in the group of death and a contract extension already inked, if the Yanks fail to make it out of the group Klinsmann may get a pass as he looks to 2018. However, the US will not want a situation similar to Theo Walcott at the 2006 World Cup.
At the time, Walcott was a 17-year-old with very little experience playing in only 13 senior games for Arsenal, none of them in the Premier League. Despite seemingly better options, Sven-Goran Eriksson included Walcott in the England squad that traveled to Germany. Walcott made no impact in the tournament, never leaving his spot on the bench.
The Swedish manager defended what was widely considered a controversial decision. Of Walcott’s inclusion Eriksson said, “It will have served Walcott extremely well for the future. He has been to a World Cup, knows how it is and it will be very good for him in his career.”
Although that may very well be true, the U.S. can ill-afford to use a place at the World Cup with eyes on future tournaments. Comparing Walcott and Green at similar stages, it can be argued Green is further along in his development as a player. Walcott made his senior international debut a month before the tournament and was plagued with criticism of being a “track star” and “lacking a soccer brain” through much of his early career.
There have been no such questions about Green’s ability, but only about his experience. He does still have time to play with the USMNT on several more occasions before Klinsmann announces his final roster on June 2. And with Bayern Munich already wrapping up the Bundesliga title, it could present opportunities for Green to get first-team minutes.
The nearest comparison to Green may very well be Landon Donovan. Both players made their debuts at the tender age of 18 against Mexico and were both reserve league players in Germany at the time, with Donovan at Bayer Leverkausen. The only difference could be that Donovan scored as a second-half substitute.
The now-LA Galaxy legend certainly came with hype as a teenager and went on to provide a major impact in his first World Cup in 2002. He notched two goals, one against rivals Mexico in the Round of 16 as well as a cross that was deflected for the United States’ second goal in a 3-2 upset of Portugal. Donovan was voted the Best Young Player in the competition.
He was able to gain two crucial years in development leading up to his introduction on the world’s biggest soccer stage. Green is only afforded two months to gain that experience in order to make the 23-man squad.
If Green continues the rest of the season playing with the Bayern reserves and ends up with about three caps before Klinsmann has to make his decision on his final roster, is that enough for Green to make the squad on merit?
In that scenario, it would be a mistake to include Green for this World Cup. What would that communicate to players getting regular first team minutes and playing well that get left behind for an inexperienced, albeit talented teenager? The message would be the wrong one and show that club form is not the sole factor in Klinsmann determining his roster.
If Green does get quality minutes in the Bundesliga in the remaining months of the season and also has positive performances with the U.S., then any call-up would come on his playing ability and being in-form at the right time, rather than simply a reputation of an exciting prospect. However, time is running low to make that sort of an impact.
The teenager surely has a promising future ahead of him and should be a mainstay on the USMNT roster for years to come. At this moment, it may be best to let Green develop more before bringing him to his first World Cup, even if that is to the chagrin of U.S. supporters.
There is no margin for error with Ghana, Portugal and Germany on the horizon and it would create a tough situation if Green never leaves the bench while a player that could make an impact is left at home watching on television.
Worse yet would be throwing the 18-year-old into the fray and seeing his inexperience show in a build-up to a goal that costs the U.S. a chance at advancing. Those elite opponents will require alert defending from all 11 players on the field and Green’s mental lapse against Mexico, though fleeting, is a worrisome sign.
The year for Klinsmann to draft Green into the 23-man roster for a World Cup is 2018. In the end, would it come as a total shock if Klinsmann reserves a spot for him on the plane to Brazil?
Not exactly. It just would be the wrong decision.