TEMPE, Ariz. – On Wednesday night, the United States and Mexico will play the 63rd edition of one of the world’s most compelling sporting rivalries. And yet, somehow, an 18-year-old has stolen the spotlight.
For the first time since committing his international future to the United States, Bayern Munich prospect Julian Green took the training field with his new teammates on Monday, all while his new head coach and fellow German-American Jurgen Klinsmann was making sure rapidly ballooning expectations stayed within reason.
And although U.S. Soccer won’t subject Green to the glare of the media spotlight until after the match, he is expected to make his USMNT debut against El Tri, giving American fans a glimpse of the player they’ve salivated over for the past few months (Wednesday, 11 pm ET, ESPN/UniMas).
“We don’t want to put any type of pressure on [Julian] or too high of expectations,” Klinsmann told reporters at USMNT training on Monday. “At the end of the day, he’s a player to be developed. Developed mainly in his club from one point to the next, and we are going to help this development. How everything can then proceed is up to him. We take his pace, we take his development there and have a very close eye on him.”
For now, though, all eyes are on Green in red, white and blue.
The primary task at the moment is integrating the youngser, who also had the option of representing Germany and played for Die Mannschaft youth sides, into the group after an initial introduction in Frankfurt ahead of the USMNT’s match against Ukraine in Cyprus.
The only two holdovers from Cyprus in Arizona are Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley, and the latter was plenty complimentary when it came to the USMNT’s newest addition, expressing a genuine interest in how Green would fit into the side.
“We’re excited to have him,” Bradley told reporters on Monday. “Obviously a very young player but a guy who has shown even at a young age that he has good starting points and a lot of quality. I think we’re all excited to get to know him a little bit in these few days and get the process going of showing him what it’s like to be in this team.”
Of course, this is all just the beginning of an international career preceded by a multi-year recruitment undertaken by Klinsmann and his European-based staff, most notably Andreas Herzog and Matthias Hamann.
“When I was at Bayern Munich, he was in the Under-14s probably, so I’m not saying that I watched the Under-14s train every day,” Klinsmann joked. “Obviously we have a lot of good, valuable information about a lot of the players coming through the dual citizenship path.
“We want to start communicating with them as early as possible and then show them how the path with the US or how it could be with the other side that they can choose. [Julian’s] family on both sides really appreciated that we were very open and honest with everything we did.”
In the end, that commitment paid off, with the recent Champions League debutant choosing the US despite the lack of what many assumed would be a guaranteed place on the World Cup squad.
Instead, Green must earn every opportunity that comes his way with the USMNT, starting Wednesday against Mexico before truly beginning the chase for what remains a plausible place on the plane to Brazil with the country of his birth but not his soccer upbringing.
“It’s down to the kid. He has to make the choice,” Klinsmann said. “He has to make the emotional decision to go for whatever country he chooses then. I think we put ourselves in a very good spot [with Julian], and we are extremely happy that he chose to play for the US going forward.”