Julian Green became a household name among US fans when he chose to play for his country of birth over Germany. The Bayern Munich youngster tells DW it was the American camaraderie and trust that made the difference.
Eighteen-year-old Julian Green may well be the United States' big hope for the future of football. While the US enjoys regular World Cup qualification, a rapidly growing domestic league and a sizeable pool of players with top-level European experience, not a single person in the senior national team setup is currently on the books at one of the world's football giants. Except Julian Green.
Although born in Florida, Green spent most of his childhood in Germany. He came up through Bayern Munich's youth academy, where he's evolved into a bright young attacking talent, comfortable on the wing or up front.
Green was promoted to Bayern's fourth-tier reserve side at the start of the current season. He scored twice on his debut and had notched 15 goals by October. One month later, he made his first appearance in the Champions League against CSKA Moscow, replacing Mario Götze in the 88th minute.
Choosing the US
As his performances began to garner more attention, Green had to work through the biggest decision of his playing career: Germany, or the US?
"It was a difficult choice and I took a lot of time with it," Green told DW. "I was always in discussion with the management and my family and talking sporting and organizational questions."
Family played an important role. Despite living most of his life in Germany, Green remains in touch with his relatives in the US.
"My father lives in Florida and we are in regular contact, so that connection over the years was very strong. And that was obviously a reason for the decision," he said.
"But my mother and father also advised me to listen to my heart with the decision and that's what I did," Green added, saying both his American and German families were "excited and happy" with his choice.
The US team features seven different German-American players who have been called into national camps over the past year. More than any of his predecessors, however, Green had to fend off interest from the German national team. Before making his final decision, he received a call from German national team assistant coach Hans-Dieter Flick.
"I spoke with Hansi Flick and he gave me perspective," said Green. "But he didn't put me under any pressure and it was a good conversation."
"I'm very thankful to him," he added. "At the end, it was my own choice to play for America."
Frankfurt makes the difference
While US coach Jürgen Klinsmann and his staff had shown their interest in Green for some time, it was ultimately the senior team's March training camp in Frankfurt that convinced him to choose the States.
"The days in Frankfurt when I first trained [with the US team], were, I think, decisive," said Green.
The mostly-European-based group of US players in the camp accepted Green from the start, and that made all the difference.
"They've obviously helped me and have welcomed me very well," Green said. "When I was still training in Frankfurt, [captain] Clint Dempsey gave me a jersey and said to me, the team would really like it if I chose the USA. That obviously showed me that they had a lot of trust in me."
'Like a huge family'
The friendly attitude around the US team has become an important part of their success, and a major reason why foreign-born players have felt so welcome in the setup, says German-born Rapid Vienna striker and US international Terrence Boyd.
"You feel comfortable from the very beginning. All the old players like Tim Howard, Clint [Dempsey], Michael Bradley - they made it easy for me and they all made it easy for [Julian Green] now," he told DW. "When I was at my first camp I was shy as hell, but they just made it easy for me to get adjusted to the group."
"We're just like a huge family. We're friends," he added.
The trust and show of support were crucial factors for Green. Klinsmann in particular, a man who starred for Germany as a player in the 1980's and 90's and later coached the country through their "summer fairytale" era as 2006 World Cup hosts, made an impact on the teenager.
"He took a lot of time out for me at the training camp in Frankfurt," said Green. "He explained really well the philosophy of the team and the training methods. Jürgen Klinsmann himself played a decade with the national team and won the European Championship and World Cup. So, whenever somebody with so much experience gives you their trust, it's obviously a huge compliment, especially for an 18-year-old."
World Cup ambitions
A youngster making national team headlines playing fourth-tier football may seem out of place, but there's a precedent for it in the US. The country's all-time leader in goals and assists, Landon Donovan, scored on his debut as an 18-year-old in 2000, before he had broken into Bayer Leverkusen's first team. More recently, Terrence Boyd earned a call-up while starring for Borussia Dortmund's reserve team in 2012.
Boyd says jumping from the fourth tier to the US senior team is a daunting, "crazy" experience.
"I couldn't believe it, the first time Klinsmann called me I was thinking it was a joke," said Boyd "It was just crazy because I was playing in the fourth division in Germany. I wasn't playing first team football."
Most Americans saw Green play for the first time when he made his national team debut against Mexico on April 3, coming on in the 59th minute.
"It was obviously a highlight," said Green. "It was a huge motivation … against the backdrop of 60,000 fans."
He had little time to make an impact, however, and his brief performance seemed to answer few questions about the mysterious young talent. But the teammates who have trained with him recognize Green's ability and potential.
"I know he's a good kid," said Boyd. "I know he's very gifted."
To many American fans, Green is already considered a lock for the US World Cup squad in June. But the youngster is less convinced. He insists he's not guaranteed a spot on the plane to Brazil yet, but added he'll "step on the gas" in training and during matches to try and make it happen.