SALVADOR, Brazil – It was the most controversial and surprising pick on Jurgen Klinsmann's roster, the young man who critics said was too raw, too inexperienced, too untested to go to the World Cup.
Yet when time came and he was finally called upon Tuesday night, 19-year-old Julian Green gave the United States a lifeline where there was none, and an injection of energy in a dying and exhausted cause.
Green, the speedy forward/winger who plays for German giant Bayern Munich but does not start for its first team, had seen no action in the tournament until extra time in the Americans' 2-1 round of 16 defeat to Belgium on Tuesday night. But with a worn-out U.S. team two goals down and seemingly all hope extinguished, Klinsmann put in Green.
His legs quickly cranked into action and he started to rush down the left wing, making cuts and darts and showing fleet footwork to tired defenders, and suddenly there was a tiny glimmer of hope.
It was Klinsmann's final throw of the dice, the ultimate wildcard to play when all seemed lost midway through extra time. And within mere moments, it made an impact.
Green did not have the ball at his feet but cut inside anyway, temporarily losing his marker. It was enough; Michael Bradley's lofted ball was perfect and Green kept his eye on it, volleying past the otherwise unbeatable Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and into the net.
"Talk about a story," U.S. defender Omar Gonzalez said. "A young guy coming in late in the game and one of his first touches is a great volley into the back of the net. I love how he didn't celebrate too much, he just ran right back.
"I said to him after the game, 'Congrats on what you have accomplished, don't stop working hard, keep on fighting and you will be something special.'"
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After Green's goal suddenly there was some juice in the American legs again. Suddenly there was a chance.
And though it ultimately did not come to fruition after a pair of late opportunities went begging, it meant one thing – that the U.S. did not go out of the tournament with a whimper.
"We knew that he was ready," Klinsmann said. "He knew that he might get his chance today. It was just phenomenal the way he came in and scored that goal and gets us back. We just needed a little bit more. It was fun to watch that kid grow."
There was disappointment, there will be for some time to come. There was a sense of unfulfilled promise and there should be some deep self-analysis at how the U.S. managed to get so little traction against Belgium, which totally dominated the game.
But there is some hope for the future. Green, if things run to plan, will be coming into his own by the time this carnival reaches Russia in four years. He could be starring at Bayern or hopefully at least contributing elsewhere and for the U.S. Perhaps he can add what was so sorely lacked here, attacking impetus.
"I am 19 years old and all the experience from a World Cup is important to me, I have it all in my head," Green said. "Of course, I am really looking forward to playing with this team and show everybody how good I am."
Should Klinsmann have thrown him in earlier? It is an easy question to pose now and we will never truly know the answer. Klinsmann's plans were thrown awry somewhat when a first-half injury to Fabian Johnson forced the usage of the first of three subs.
Green's performance at least served one purpose maybe, which was to put the Landon Donovan debate to bed. Donovan could arguably have been a valuable addition here, but there was not room for both, and it is hard to think the veteran could have done more than Green with those few minutes.
This is a time for the program, once it has nursed its wounds, to look forward, with Green as a part of it. Looking forward is no easy thing once a World Cup campaign has just ended, but it's sure as heck less painful than looking back on the beautiful dream that came to an abrupt end.