Few, if any, saw this coming.
Days before the U.S. men’s soccer team’s training camp was set to conclude, coach Jurgen Klinsmann pulled the plug on speculation. His 23-man World Cup roster was set.
And 19-year-old Julian Green would be on the plane to Brazil.
“I was getting ready in the dressing room with the team,” Green said of his selection. “First of all, I shared this great news with my best friends. Then I told my family about it.”
Despite a smidgen of first-division professional experience, Green will be the third-youngest player in the World Cup when the United States takes on Ghana at 3 p.m. Monday in Natal.
“I always knew there was no guarantee, but a chance,” said Green, a midfielder. “Because of that, I gave everything in every training. Going to Brazil was my great aim and motivation.”
If Green’s name doesn’t ring a bell — or at least didn’t before his surprise selection — there’s good reason.
Julian’s father, Jerry, married a German woman, and the future soccer prodigy was born at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base in 1995. The couple divorced when Julian was 2, and he spent the bulk of his adolescence in Germany.
“Unlike over here, where kids have summer breaks and stuff,
the German school system pretty much runs throughout the year,” Jerry Green said. “So Julian would come back here when he had breaks. At least once a year, sometimes more.”
Julian Green played in the youth system at powerful German club Bayern Munich and signed a professional contract with the team in November. Though Green has spent just a handful of minutes playing with the senior team, his training at Bayern has been invaluable to his development.
“All the players are very focused and disciplined,” Green said. “Each training session is a competition, but you can learn a lot if you work hard every day. I am proud and thankful to get the chance to prove myself on such a top team, and I want to take this unique opportunity.”
Green played on both German and U.S. youth teams, but he hadn’t made a decision about which nation to represent on a senior level. Green got to train in March ahead of the Yanks’ exhibition match against Ukraine and chose the United States two weeks later.
Fast forward to June, and Green is preparing for the first of what many think will be multiple World Cups for the United States.
“I think he made the right decision by choosing the U.S., and I was very happy and proud of him,” Jerry Green said. “I tried to act calm when he told me and take it in stride, but on the inside, I was doing cartwheels.”
Julian Green’s selection was met with some skepticism. Some speculated he was promised a World Cup slot if he chose to play for the United States over Germany. Jerry Green dismissed those claims.
“Whoever started that rumor, and I have a pretty good idea where it came from, is lying,” he said. “There was never any conversation like that between Jurgen or Julian or myself. It’s simply a lie.”
With Ghana, Portugal and Germany in their group, the U.S. men are not favored to reach the Round of 16 (the top two in each group advance). Julian Green played sparingly during the United States’ recent Send-Off Series, and it’s not clear how much he’ll play in Brazil.
But all it would take is one sparkling sideline run and subsequent strike to make a previously unknown kid from Tampa a household name.
“I am proud and excited about this great chance,” Green said. “I am looking forward to a World Cup in the home country of football. Know I am just feeling eager and happy anticipation.”