By FRANCO PANIZO
GLENDALE, Ariz. — After several months of hype and excitement, Julian Green made his much-anticipated U.S. Men’s National Team debut in the 59th minute of their friendly with Mexico.
What followed was not exactly overly impressive or other worldly, but it did validate Jurgen Klinsmann and the U.S. players have been saying about Green: He’s full of potential.
The 18-year-old Green received his longest runout as a professional and showed flashes of that potential in Wednesday’s 2-2 draw at University of Phoenix Stadium, his first taste of the intense U.S.-Mexico rivalry. Green struggled at times to adapt to the physicality of the match, which pitted the still-maturing youngster against players like Rafa Marquez who are almost twice his senior, and had a tough time beating defenders on the dribble.
That is not to say that there were no positive moments from the German-American attacker in his 31-minute cameo. Green, who did not speak with media afterwards, showed an aggressiveness and fearlessness about him by taking on defenders repeatedly on the left flank. Not all of his moves worked but one explosive burst on the dribble late in the game did, resulting in him being brought down in the box and appeals for a penalty kick going ignored.
Plays like that show just why Klinsmann, Bayern Munich and so many others are high on Green, even if he is far from a finished product.
“I think you saw in some moments what this kid is actually capable to do,” said Klinsmann. “How he goes in the box and draws two guys and should’ve gotten a penalty – the referee was five yards away, which is pretty ridiculous – but it is what it is. Obviously, he was nervous, too, and he plays his first cap in front of 60,000 against Mexico. Here and there maybe you slip, you lose your balance like it happened to him once there, but the team welcomed him with open arms.
“The team when you (see) other players, you check each other out and you understand within 10 minutes if it’s a good player or not. Julian is a very good player. We are happy to have him now with us, playing for us, and obviously that age gives you everything for the future. It was a start for him.”
Green’s introduction on the left flank for Brad Davis just before the hour-mark came with a loud ovation from the U.S. supporters who have been anxiously awaiting his debut to catch a glimpse of the type of player he is. Green’s only other professional appearance came via a two-minute cameo off the bench for Bayern Munich in a UEFA Champions League game last November.
Mexico then took its turning welcoming Green to the international level, delivering a hard tackle on his first play on the ball. That sent Klinsmann into a frenzy on the sideline, but also was a sign of things to come.
El Tri used physicality to try to impose themselves on Green, who was almost always forward-thinking in his moves. Green was never allowed too much time or space and was also involved in the sequence that led to Mexico’s equalizer (he failed to properly clear a cross-field switch and then didn’t track his mark all the way), but also did not look out of place and showed some good instincts with his runs and passes.
“He’s still an 18-year-old kid. He’s an 18-year-old kid with a lot of talent and a lot of good ability,” said midfielder Michael Bradley. “I think he showed a little bit of that tonight. He certainly showed a little bit of that in training and more than anything tonight was just about getting him out on the field for the first time and letting him enjoy that and almost, in some ways, getting that out of the way.
“Now, you feel like he’s a part of the group, he’s got the first one under his belt and now he can build on that from there.”
By all accounts, Green is fitting in just fine in the typically-welcoming U.S. locker room. The youngster is still a bit shy, but that is to be expected of an unassuming teenager who only recently was thrusted into the international spotlight after filing his one-time switch.
Like his game, Green’s level of comfort within the U.S. squad will improve over time, especially since veteran players are already doing all they can to make him feel like he is one of the guys.
“He’s coming to camp and still feeling his way into the team and quiet,” midfielder Maurice Edu told SBI. “I’m trying to get him out of his shell a little bit, getting a little bit of banter going on, but he’s a good kid. I think he’s finding his way into the group pretty well.”
Whether Green fits into the final World Cup puzzle that Klinsmann has to piece together in the next two months remains to be seen. It’s unlikely that Klinsmann refrains from giving Green another shot to prove himself in May’s pre-World Cup camp based strictly off Wednesday’s performance.
Yes, the hype might have died down a bit after his debut. The belief in him has not.
“He’s a good player. He has a lot of potential,” said Edu. “He’s still only 18, though. A very, very young kid and I think he has a really bright future. He has his head on straight, he’s eager to learn and eager to continue to progress and get better, and I thought he had a good showing today.
“There was a questionable call on the box. On another day it might have been a penalty or at least a foul, but today I think you saw what he can do when he’s given the chance.”