This is American Soccer Prospect Julian Green's Make-or-Break Season

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This is American Soccer Prospect Julian Green's Make-or-Break Season

A hundred and five minutes into the round of 16 match in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, against Belgium, the 19-year-old Julian Green was thrown into the fray by fellow German-American (or is it American-German?) Jürgen Klinsmann, whose team needed to score two goals in 15 minutes.

The United States had managed to stay in the game thanks to the superhuman effort of Tim Howard, who made 11 saves to keep the game scoreless over 90 minutes.

Kevin De Bruyne however made the breakthrough for Belgium, netting the first goal of the game just three minutes into extra time. Then, on the brink of the of half time extra time, De Bruyne assisted Romelu Lukaku to put the final nail in the coffin.

Julian Green came onto the pitch, and with his first touch of the match, scored.

The United States of America had been thrown a lifeline by a teenager playing his fourth game for the US national team, the first that was not an international friendly.

While the Julian Green goal gave the nation hope, the US failed to find an equalizer in the remaining 13 minutes of play. And, for the last two years, that star that once shone so brightly for the United States has faded away.

Right now, Green plays for Bayern Munich in the German Bundesliga. At the moment it’s difficult to see him getting any meaningful playing time in the 2016-17 season, as far as first team minutes are concerned. As you might imagine, the depth chart is stacked at FC Bayern, especially in attacking roles.

After Bayern’s friendly against AC Milan in Chicago last week, I asked Julian if there was a spot on the pitch that he liked better than others.

“I can play up front, I can play on the wing, on the right side, it don’t matter to me,”

Despite Green’s professed willingness to play anywhere in the forward line, there is a lot of congestion there at his current club.

Bayern’s first choice central striker is Robert Lewandowski (he’s the guy that scored five goals in eight minutes against Wolfsburg the last season). On the wings, the club features the likes of Kingsley Coman, Douglas Costa, Franck Ribéry or Arjen Robben Beating these out for top spot in the rotation is a tall order for any 21-year-old, let alone an American.

Green has long been stuck between two worlds. Born to a German father and an American mother (on the 50th anniversary of D-Day, no less) in Tampa, Florida, Julian Green moved to Germany at the age of two with his mother, and as a result was eligible to represent either national federation.

Playing for the DFB-Junioren at the U16 and U17 level, Green wasn’t certain where his allegiance would eventually lie. He would also represent the United States U-18 team in a friendly, but later switched back to the country of his mother’s birth, representing Germany in qualifying rounds of the 2014 UEFA U-19 European Championships.

Nevertheless, the US national team kept up the pressure. For the November round of international friendlies in 2013, Klinsmann called Green up to the United States senior national team. Green declined; unless he filed for a one-time switch (permitted for players with dual nationalities), he would be ineligible to play. Green said he wasn’t ready to commit, and went off with Germany’s U-19 team for a friendly.

He would finally make up his mind four months later. On March 18, 2014, Green filed for a one-time switch, opting to play the rest of his career for the United States of America, two weeks after training with the full national team before a friendly.

Little did Green know, amid major controversy—mostly directed at Jurgen Klinsmann—that he would end up replacing the most prolific goal scorer in American soccer history, Landon Donovan. The fact that Green didn’t see the pitch until that match against Belgium provided even more fuel for Klinsmann’s detractors. In fact, since that fateful day in Salvador, Brazil, Green has played just 57 minutes for the national team, with both appearances coming in international friendlies.

Green’s Bundesliga career has been equally tepid. He’s been at Bayern Munich since July 2009, when he was just 14, but he hasn’t taken the same route enjoyed by fellow Säbener Straße products, local Bavarian lads and current Bayern first-teamers like Thomas Müller, Philipp Lahm and Manuel Neuer—Green has made just two Bundesliga appearances.

A two season stint in Germany’s third tier, the Bavarian Regional League, has proved kinder—there, Green has netted 25 times in 51 appearances. Nevertheless, those taking a closer look at Green will question his ability to perform at the highest level.

He’s trying to change that. But he needs more time to do it. And he knows it’s not a process that will be completed overnight.

“I give my best every day, that’s all I can do, to work hard every day, go hard every training session, every match, and that’s the only thing I can do,” Green said in a press conference before the third and final game of FC Bayern’s summer 2016 USA tour.

These are humble words for someone who just netted three times against Inter Milan two weekends ago. Though it was a friendly match on an international tour, the hat trick saw “Julian Green” trend on Twitter in the United States for several hours.

Last Wednesday night’s match against Real Madrid was the final stop of the tour, and it was a familiar fixture. The two teams have met on two occasions for two-legged Champions League semifinal ties in the past four years alone.

When Carlo Ancelotti replaced José Mourinho in June of 2013, Zinedine Zidane was named his assistant. Now, Zizou is the boss of Los Blancos, after replacing Ancelotti exactly 35 months to the date that the Italian took over in Madrid.

The first thing that Ancelotti likes to do when he inherits a new squad is get to know the players. Despite the short time he’s spent with Bayern, and Julian Green in particular, he’s starting to form an impression.

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Ancelotti was asked about where he sees Julian Green in five years. Though he tried to laugh off the question, the answer confirmed what we, and Green already know.

“I’m not a magician, (I can’t see) whatever is in the future. I know what he has to do. He has to continue to work, to continue to improve, and continue to have confidence in his quality, his ability…

“He’s in a great club, and that will be a lot of competition, because they have a lot of players, but I think the most important thing is to believe in his dream and to follow working,” Ancelotti said last Tuesday.

Lewandowski receiving an extended rest following a quarterfinal-run with Poland at Euro 2016 was certainly a boost to the hopes of Green, but nearly all of the work is yet to be done. The Bundesliga season kicks off on the 26th of August, with defending-champs Bayern hosting the opening match.

While Lewandowski is all-but guaranteed a place in Ancelotti’s starting eleven for the campaign’s first contest against Werder Bremen, it’s possible to envision Green in the home dugout at the Allianz Arena.

More than skill, what Julian Green requires at this moment is luck. A bit of timely fortune would go further for him than having Messi’s touch, at least at this point in time. Ancelotti, and the Bayern Munich board and fans know the quality of Lewandowski, Coman, Costa, Ribery and Robben. If Green started the season in the starting lineup for FC Hollywood, there would no doubt be rumblings.

Cracking the Startelf is a lengthy process. Fortunately, there’s a span of five games in September and October that present such an opportunity for Green. FC Ingolstadt (who finished 11th), Hertha Berlin (overachieving to finish 7th), Hamburger SV (10th), FC Cologne (9th) and Eintracht Frankfurt (won the relegation playoff to remain in the top flight) all are fairly weak teams that Julian Green could reasonably expect to see playing time in. And he will have to supplement his hard work with luck if he is to realize his dream and become a regular for his boyhood club, FC Bayern Munich.

Every peak is inevitably followed by the lull of a valley. Wednesday night against Real Madrid, Julian Green started for Bayern Munich, hoping to spring from the platform provided by Saturday’s performance of a lifetime.

Half an hour into the match, Green was presented with the opportunity to give his side a one-goal lead. Played through on net, he should have scored, but scuffed his shot and the keeper was able to make a comfortable save.

In a brief post-match interview, Green once again the need to work hard. He knows what he has to do should the chance present itself.

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