GLENDALE, Ariz.— Julian Green didn’t walk on water, turn water into wine or score a hat trick while ripping off his jersey and revealing an American flag tattoo on his chest. The 18-year old wonder kid who has American soccer fans drooling about a player most had never seen play didn’t perform any miracles in his national team debut on Wednesday. What he did do was show some flashes of quality along with moments that reminded us he is still very much a young player.
Green came on as a 59th-minute substitute in the U.S. national team’s 2-2 tie against Mexico and while his 31-minute debut had some turnovers, slips and even a welcome-to-the-rivalry shoulder knock that left him on the ground in pain for a short while, Green also flashed his speed and quality. He appeared to draw a penalty-worthy foul at one point and showed some good speed that clearly worried the Mexican defense, which sent multiple defenders at him seemingly every time he touched the ball.
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“I think you saw in some moments what this kid is capable (of doing),” U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said of Green. “How he goes in the box and draws two guys. He should have gotten a penalty. The referee was five yards away from it, which was pretty ridiculous. But it is what it is.
“Obviously he was nervous, too. He plays his first cap in front of 60,000 against Mexico, so here and there maybe you slip. You lose your balance, like it happened to him once there.”
Green’s slips and turnovers reminded us just how raw he still is, but the quality that made him such a highly sought after player by Klinsmann also shone through. That balance of promise and rawness should help ease the largely unrealistic expectations that had gathered steam in recent weeks about the Bayern Munich prospect.
“He’s still an 18-year-old kid, an 18-year-old kid with a lot of talent and a lot of ability,” U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley said. “I think he showed a little bit of that tonight. He certainly showed a little bit of that in training.
“More than anything, tonight was just about getting him out on the field for the first time, and letting him enjoy that,” Bradley added. “And almost, in some ways, getting that out of the way. And now he can come in and feel like he’s part of the group. He’s got the first one under his belt and he can build on that from there.”
What Green did show was good pace and confidence on the ball, even if he did show some nerves on some unforced turnovers. He settled down as the game went on, but never really got loose, in part because of the attention being paid to him by Mexico’s defense.
The questions will persist about whether Green will make the 2014 World Cup team, and while it does still feel a bit premature to say he has a strong chance of making the squad, the reality is that the other left-wing options in the pool have yet to really take hold of the remaining midfield slots up for grabs. Brek Shea continues to collect dust on the bench at Stoke City and Brad Davis was underwhelming in a starting left-wing role against Mexico.
While finally having a reference point for Green should ease some of the hype about him, the interest in the young left winger will continue to persist as we draw closer to the pre-World Cup training camp in May. Green is all but assured of being there when Klinsmann calls in his preliminary roster, and that camp should be the true test of whether Green is a viable option for the World Cup roster.
Though he didn’t perform miracles or score a goal on Wednesday, Green did impress. He not only impressed fans with his glimpses of promise, but he impressed his new U.S. teammates with the level-headed temperament he displays despite being so young.
“The team welcomed him with open arms,” Klinsmann said of Green. “When you are among other players, you check each other out and you understand within 10 minutes if its a good player or not. Julian is a very good player, so we are happy to have him playing for us.”
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- Jurgen Klinsmann