Jurgen Klinsmann drew widespread criticism by including Julian Green – and not Landon Donovan – in his 23-man World Cup roster, but the United States head coach now believes the German-based 18-year-old can provide a unique advantage – maybe even become the team's secret weapon.
Green played only three minutes as a Champions League substitute for his club team Bayern Munich, spending most of his time in the reserve squad. But word out of Germany is that Green, despite being incredibly raw at the top level, has a special knack for drawing fouls in the box and earning penalty kicks.
In each of his two brief appearances with the U.S., Green drew what seemed to be fouls in the penalty area only for the referee to wave the appeals away.
"Julian has his sparks," Klinsmann said. "[Against Turkey] he drew a clear penalty again, like he did against Mexico. That is two goals he nearly gave.
"He is connecting with the guys. He is more and more part of it. It is exciting."
Green came on in the 64th minute of Sunday's 2-1 victory over Turkey at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey and, if he sees game action in Brazil, is most likely to be used as a high-pace, impact substitute. Using him that way maximizes the threat of Green’s energy and speed, especially when he is running at tiring defenders.
Green is the great unknown, not just for the American soccer public but also for the U.S.’ World Cup opponents. Most of the action he has seen in his professional career has come in the German fourth division, where Bayern’s second team plays its matches. While that lack of experience could be a negative, his comparative anonymity could be a plus. Not many international scouts regularly hang out at fourth-division games.
"Maybe it is good they haven’t seen me," Green said. "We will see what happens.
"Sometimes in Germany I love penalties. I just want to help the team on the pitch in this World Cup."
Some of the criticism aimed at Klinsmann for Green's selection revolved around a conspiracy theory that suggests the coach promised the youngster a World Cup roster spot in return for committing to the U.S. instead of Germany. Green was eligible to play for either national team.
Green’s father angrily refuted that accusation on Las Vegas radio on Sunday.
"Anybody who makes the statement that 'I know Julian was guaranteed this or this' is a liar," Jerry Green told CBS Las Vegas. "I'm just telling you the straight and simple. Unless they were in that room or were part of any of those conversations, they're a liar."
Whether you agree with Julian Green’s selection or not – and on that topic American fans seem split down the middle – he is likely to get the chance to shape his own reputation this summer. With precious few players boasting explosive pace on the roster, Green could be one of the first places Klinsmann will look if he desperately needs a spark late in games.
For Green, the opportunity is there. Score a goal or make a big play – or win a penalty kick – and his place in the hearts of the American soccer public could be secure.