— Taylor Twellman (@TaylorTwellman) March 18, 2014
Then, minutes later…
“We are absolutely thrilled that Julian Green has chosen to be a part of the U.S. National Team Programs!”
— Jürgen Klinsmann (@J_Klinsmann) March 18, 2014
Julian Green is a USMNT player. It seems the USMNT has finally found itself a winger. This guy.
It would seem that much of the handwringing is in response to outsize expectation, which of course accompanies any high-profile defection. This is natural. Reasonable people will respond to unreasonable claims by sometimes taking similarly unreasonable tacks in the opposite direction. Green is the best teenager prospect in USMNT history is shouted down by saying he plays in the German fourth division and he cannot possibly have done enough to earn a spot in Brazil.
These are both over-dramatizations of the situation. I, like most of you, have never seen Julian Green play in person. I have probably seen somewhere in the neighborhood of 100-150 cumulative minutes of his play. This is nowhere enough to form an abiding, root-level analysis of Green. I’ve seen him play some outstanding passages on the left, careen through tackles and generally corrupt back lines with genuine winger ability. This is not something the USMNT has had since… *echoes trail off into eternity*
But I know Julian Green in the same way I know the movement of the wind. Not as much in its physical form as in that which it topples. And in this case, Green is bearing down on some homes in dire need of renovation. This is his competition in the midfield, hanging desperately onto the wings of the plane south.
Let’s assume for a moment that Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan, Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman, Clint Dempsey, Graham Zusi and Alejandro Bedoya are on the flight. If we also assume that Klinsmann takes eight defenders and three forwards (which are reasonable estimates), that leaves two spots in the midfield with wide open pegs.
Here’s who I assume to be the competition for those slots: Julian Green, Mix Diskerud, Danny Williams, Sacha Kljestan, Joe Corona, Maurice Edu, Luis Gil, Brad Davis, Benny Feilhaber, Brek Shea, Jose Torres.
I haven’t seen Green comprehensively enough to know how he reacts in every situation. I doubt many of us have, save his coach, a handful of scouts and Jurgen and Pep. I’ve seen him enough to know he has incredible promise, but more than that? You’re hedging on projections. But I have seen countless minutes on his competition. I know what to expect from Brek Shea and Brad Davis, the two “left wingers” who represent Green’s de facto competition. You know what Mix and Sacha bring in the center. You understand Jose Torres and Benny Feilhaber are essentially creative shells on the international stage.
So let’s say Klinsmann opts to pack one more defensive midfielder into the bag to make it four. Danny Williams or Maurice Edu. That leaves one spot.
First, there are no left wingers on this roster. Brek Shea is a drifting husk of a midfielder, rudderless and engineless tottering gently as the waves whisk him from one team to the next. Brad Davis is immobile, a virtual J.J. Redick on the international stage who lacks the ability to do much of anything except serve in balls he has trouble finding space to serve. Fabian Johnson is not a midfielder. With Landon Donovan flourishing on the left for the Galaxy, it’s a safe bet Klinsmann leaves him there for Brazil. Which means you have two left midfielders who haven’t proven they belong in Brazil fighting for a player with more technical chops who also hasn’t proven he belongs in Brazil. Fun battle.
I understand the pleas for pace. Your brakes matter. These cries are reasonable, and you should generally err in that direction if given the opportunity. But Julian Green should be in a USMNT polo in Brazil precisely because the risk-reward here is below the basement. There is no risk. I worry less about the message Klinsmann is sending and more about the players he’s sending. That we’re even talking about bringing someone like a Brek Shea to Brazil is a sign that the shakeup is on our doorstep.
Klinsmann may or may not take Green to Brazil. He knows better than I do how ready Green might be. But let me say this: he can’t strike him off the list simply because he’s young, simply because there are Elder Statesmen among us, and certainly not simply because he plays on a reserve side to the best club team on the planet. If a player is ready for the call, he’s ready for the call.
Sometimes, when the risk assessment comes back this favorably, you simply have to have the faith to throw a kid to the wolves and see if his spear is sharp enough. We talk so often in this country of the need to give young players more meaningful chances. Time to back it up.