By Mike Woitalla
I suppose one has to recall Giuseppe Rossi to comprehend the excitement surrounding the decision of Julian Green, currently a fourth division player, to commit to the USA.
Rossi left his native New Jersey at age 12 to join Italy’s Parma and ended up a prolific scorer in both Serie A and Spain’s La Liga. He opted to play for Italy, was the leading scorer at the 2008 Olympics and has scored seven goals in 29 appearances for Italy -- including twice in a 3-1 win over the USA at the 2009 Confederations Cup. Had the U.S. Soccer successfully courted him at the start of his pro career, there’s little doubt he would have made some major contributions.
Green was born in Florida and has lived in Germany since age 2. Now 18, he has yet to play a Bundesliga game. He did make an 88th-minute appearance off the bench in Bayern Munich’s 3-1 Champions League win over CSKA Moscow in November, the month in which he earned a pro contract with Bayern through the summer of 2017.
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann has succeeded in getting a commitment from Green, who was one of seven Germany-raised players in training camp for the Ukraine friendly two weeks ago. Unlike the others, Green made his decision to represent the USA before chances of playing for Germany were off the table.
Whether Green ends up even as good as Rossi is anybody’s guess, but so far he’s made a good impression.
Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola says Green “can play wide and upfront, left and right.” Thomas Mueller, the Bayern star midfielder, says “the kid is for his age very robust and fast, very willing to work, technically very good. I like him.” Bayern’s sporting director Matthias Sammer: “He can play any offensive position.”
That the team whose lineup he hasn’t cracked is currently the world’s top club makes the reserve team status less troubling.
This season, Green has scored 15 goals in 21 games for Bayern Munich II, a U-23 team that competes in the Regionalliga against opponents without an age restriction.
Bayern is likely to clinch the Bundesliga title this month, which means Green could get playing time if Guardiola chooses to rest his attackers -- a collection of world-class players such as Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, Mario Goetze, Mario Mandzukic -- as Bayern defends its Champions League and German Cup titles.
Green’s heart must truly be with the USA. Besides still having a chance of playing for Germany – whose youth teams he’s appeared for at various levels -- one imagines his decision went against what Bayern would have preferred, because European clubs generally lament players having to make trans-Atlantic trips for national team play.
The big question for Klinsmann, who constantly reminds his players they need to excel with their clubs, is whether to give a World Cup spot to a player who has, less than three months before the World Cup, played only a few minutes of soccer above the fourth division level (besides training camp friendlies with the first team).
The big question for me is whether Green’s talent turns out to be unique compared to what the USA has been producing, because I haven’t seen that from the other German products in the pool.
For now, Green is too young and untested for anyone to know just how far he will go. If he does end up a high-scoring star, U.S. Soccer won’t suffer through the what-might-have-been moments it's had with Rossi.