June 5, 2014

Yes and No - Thoughts on Julian Green

There's been a lot of virtual ink spilled analysing and complaining about Jurgen Klinsmann's choices for the United States roster for the upcoming World Cup.  If there's an axis around which most of it rotates, it's the absence of Landon Donovan and inclusion of Julian Green, as if the two are intimately linked.  I don't think that's correct.

Writing over at Slate (which has ramped up its soccer coverage in advance of the World Cup), Jeremy Stahl breaks down the Donovan omission and rightly concludes that Klinsmann's decision on that front had nothing to do with the inclusion of Green:
Even if the 18-year-old Green had decided to take his talents to the Danube, Klinsmann still probably would have found a reason to cut Donovan from his World Cup squad. That decision seems to have been made largely on the basis of either personal animus, or some amorphous idea about 'moving on' or 'making the team his own.'
Julian Green is on the World Cup roster and Landon Donovan isn’t. But the former didn’t cause the latter. If Klinsmann didn’t have it out for Donovan, he would almost certainly have chosen to bring both men to Brazil.
Everything I've read and heard indicates that Klinsmann sees Donovan as a forward, not a midfielder like Green.  It's thus no more reasonable to talk about Green "taking" Donovan's spot than it is to say Tim Chandler did.  On top of that, I think if one of our forwards went down injured in the next week that Donovan wouldn't even be the first choice replacement, given Terrence Boyd's form at the end of his season in Austria.  Regardless, Stahl is perfectly correct that Green didn't bounce Donovan from the team.

Where I think Stahl goes wrong, however, is in arguing that Green should have made the 23-man roster at all.

Everything Stahl says about Green is right - he's a terrific prospect, has the endorsement of many top players and one of the hottest coaches.  I'm certainly glad he chose the United States over Germany when it comes to international play.  He may, indeed, be a special player.  But, the fact is, he isn't there yet.  Green's played a grand total of three minutes in a meaningful match for Bayern Munich.  Whatever potential he has, he's still very much a work in progress.

To be fair to Stahl, his piece was apparently written before the US defeated Turkey on Sunday, a game in which Green made an appearance as a second half sub.  The general impression following that game was that Green just doesn't have what it takes right now to contribute at the World Cup in 2014.  If that's the case, it's a waste of a roster space that could have been used on somebody else (Sacha Kljestan? Joe Corona?) who might have something to give this year.

The "bring him in for future experience" argument doesn't hold water.  Stahl mentions Theo Walcott who, as a 17-year old, was named to the England squad for the 2006 World Cup:
Walcott, an Arsenal player whose highest level of competition at the time was during a loan to Southampton in the English second division, didn’t play a minute in Germany. The decision to select Walcott in 2006 is viewed as one of former England manager Sven-Göran Eriksson’s greatest blunders.
What's missing from Stahl's recitation is that England had injury issue with strikers during that Cup and Walcott's along for the ride status meant Eriksson had limited options in dealing with those injuries.  The lesson learned from that situation is that every spot on the roster is important for the here and now, not as an investment in the future.

I don't think Klinsmann is pulling an Eriksson here.  He's said he thinks Green can contribute.  And if he was just investing in the future, the third goalkeeper spot would have gone to a young gun like Sean Johnson or Bill Hamid, rather than Nick Rimando.  It would take a near Biblical catastrophe for Rimando to be called upon in Brazil, but if the worst actually occurs, don't you want someone who can step in and step up?

All this virtual gum flapping, of course, assumes that there was no deal made between Klinsmann and Green - choose the US and you go to the World Cup this year.  There's been scuttlebutt to that effect and, hey, if true, we may not be Lannisters but we ought to pay our debts.  But both Green and Klinsmann deny any kind of deal and I've got no reason to doubt their honesty.

It's more a question of judgement.  On Green, I think Klinsmann has gotten it wrong, at least for 2014.  Hopefully, they both prove me wrong in the next few weeks.

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