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The Miseducation of Julian Green

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A story of unfair expectations, a World Cup goal, and German mediocrity

Soccer: 2018 FIFA World Cup Qulafying-Mexico at USA Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Julian Green was born in Tampa, Florida to an American father and a German mother. Due to his parent’s split nationalities, Green was eligible to play for either the American or German national teams. He was highly sought after by both.

After appearances for both nations — and a contract with Bayern Munich — Green filed for a one-time switch to play for the United States on March 18th, 2014. FIFA approved his change of nationality on March 24th, thereby making him an American international for life.

“Obviously this was a big decision, and I spent a long time discussing it with my family,” Green said, adding, “I was born in Florida and my father still lives there, so I have deep roots in the U.S. I’m very proud to be representing the United States.”

Two days later, Green was called up to the senior national team for a friendly against Mexico, making his debut in the second half. Green was 19 years old at the time.

Two months later, Green was named to the 2014 U.S. World Cup roster. He scored on his first touch of the tournament, a 107th minute volley in U.S’ 2-1 Round of 16 loss to Belgium. With this goal, he became the youngest American ever to score in a World Cup.

Following this goal, expectations surrounding Green skyrocketed. Bayern Munich, however, loaned Green to Bundesliga side Hamburger SV for the 2014-2015 campaign, where he only amassed 113 first-team minutes, failing to score a goal.

Green returned to Bayern Munich for the 2015-16 campaign, although he appeared exclusively for the club’s fourth-tier reserve side.

Despite failing to impress at Bayern, Green was selected to participate in the 2016 International Champions Cup, most likely due to his American background. While the tournament is essentially understood to be a glorified exhibition showcase, Green’s performance managed to raise a few eyebrows.

The youngster managed a 35-minute hat trick against Italian-side Inter Milan, as Bayern dominated, winning 4-1 at Bank of America Stadium. Following the performance, manager Carlo Ancelotti promised that Green would not be loaned out for the 2016-17 season.

“He will be with us. There is a lot of competition in the squad; it won’t be easy for him to play but this preseason he is doing well,” Ancelotti said, adding “he’s scored four goals, he is moving well, he is playing well with the team. He has to improve but he is young.”

On October 26th, 2016, Green scored his first competitive goal for Bayern in a 3-1 DFB-Pokal (German Cup) victory over FC Ausburg. With the goal, Green became the first American to score for the club. Green only appeared one other time for Bayern.

He subsequently left Bayern over the winter break, moving to second division side VfB Stuttgart on a permanent transfer.

"Julian wants to have a new experience at a club where he'll be a first-team regular," said Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, FC Bayern München AG chairman, adding that this "was tricky at FC Bayern due to a lot of competition. I wish Julian all the best for the future. He always was a hard-working, reliable and very likeable player for FC Bayern."

Green received praise following his first appearance for Stuttgart; a 0-0 draw against MSV Dusiburg.

“Julian Green had a couple of good situations in his first game for us,” Wolf told Stuttgart’s website, adding “it was clear to see that he has distinct qualities and that he can help us further. He certainly still needs some match practice, but he’ll get that over the next few days and weeks.”

On February 6th, Green finally broke through, scoring for Stuttgart in a 2-0 win over Dusseldorf. In eight appearances for Stuttgart, this was Green’s only goal.

Stuttgart, with 63 points, recently secured promotion to the Bundesliga for the 2017-18 season. Julian Green will therefore be back in the top-tier of German soccer.

Green’s international and club career has been a disappointment to most fans. In his World Cup selection, Green was lauded as the American soccer messiah, much like Christian Pulisic is today.

Although Green is a solid player, he never truly had Pulisic-like potential. Green’s mythical talent was a narrative constructed by Jurgen Klinsmann and only furthered by his World Cup goal, which was most certainly an aberration.

Speaking to ESPN FC in 2013, Klinsmann called Green “a tremendous talent,” adding that we "we have been scouting him for more than two years, and we are thrilled to bring him into our camp and introduce him to the Senior Team program. We believe we could help him grow into a special player.”

Green was Jurgen Klinsmann’s big discovery — a youngster who could demonstrate the former manager’s eye for talent and hopefully save his job. Klinsmann pursued a similar strategy with other German-Americans (see: Andrew Wooten and Terrence Boyd), but he deemed Green to have the best potential.

Although Green was certainly a talented prospect, he never should’ve been coronated as the harbinger of American soccer success. By selecting Green over Landon Donovan for the 2014 World and inevitably inviting the comparison between the past and future, Klinsmann did just that.

As Bleacher Report’s Dan Levy argued following the roster’s release, “Klinsmann's decision is obviously more about the distant future than the immediate, and while Green could turn out to be the best player the U.S. will ever see, Donovan is the best player we've ever seen—past tense—but still good enough that he can help the present team on and off the field in Brazil.”

Klinsmann’s actions — referring to Green as a well of talent, selecting him over Donovan and thereby juxtaposing him with the best American to date — unfairly placed American hopes on a severely-inexperienced youngster.

Following Green’s 15 minutes of World Cup fame, the hype train only picked up steam. Looking for a silver lining in an otherwise disappointing loss, the American media was quick to highlight Green as the man who would lead the U.S. over the hump and towards an eventual World Cup championship. SportsCenter led the way, likening the youngster to Lionel Messi.

Following SportsCenter’s lead, Dan Itel, former writer for MLS, further compared Green to Messi, writing “his (Green’s) first goal for the Yanks – coming on his first touch just seconds after his first World Cup appearance in the 107th minute – made him the youngest scorer in the tournament since a certain someone named Lionel Messi opened his account in 2006,” adding “things have since worked out pretty well for Messi,” who scored 12 years ago in Argentina’s 6-0 win over Serbia and Montenegro for his first World Cup goal also as a 19-year-old.

Yahoo Sports ran a story on the match with the headline “Julian Green gives U.S. glimpse of future with late goal against Belgium.”

Green, a talented prospect — of which the U.S. has many — was now the physical embodiment of America’s promising soccer future. Unsurprisingly, Green has fallen short of this impossible-to-reach benchmark.

Countless articles have deemed Green to be a failure. He has been portrayed as a lazy yet-talented player who has let his country down. While Green should have likely performed better than he has at times, headlines like “Believe the hype, Christian Pulisic can be the superstar Julian Green should have been” are entirely unfair.

Outside of Klinsmann’s rhetoric and a 15 minute performance in a single match, there was never a legitimate reason to treat Green as American soccer’s next big thing.

Following Stuttgart’s promotion and Bruce Arena’s hiring, Green may very well have a bright future. He is back in the Bundesliga, where he could secure a solid amount of playing time, meaning that at the least, Green is a solid player on a team in one of the world’s best three leagues. It could be a lot worse — ask Freddy Adu.

In terms of the national team, Green confirmed that he has spoken to new headman Bruce Arena.

“He was at the game against Heidenheimer and then we had a talk on the phone,” Green stated, explaining “we had a good talk and I hope I can be in the squad.” Green also told The Washington Post “he (Arena) said he’s looking out for me and is always watching what I’m doing here in Stuttgart. And that was it. So we’ll see what happens.”

Julian Green is not Christian Pulisic. He never was, and he never will be. While the Klinsmann-fueled hype machine promoted a mythical world in which Green would deliver the U.S. to the promised land, these expectations were unfounded, unwarranted, and wholly unfair.

Green may very well return to the U.S. national team. He may not. Regardless, right now, 21-year-old Julian Green is back in the Bundesliga, making good money, and competing for a spot on the national team.

Really, it could be a lot worse.