Julian Green may be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to young talent in the U.S. men's national team player pipeline.
By Phil Schoen (@PhilSchoen)
They might have just seen the “Green” light from Germany, but as the United States national team prepares to face Mexico on Wednesday, there are even more promising signs on the horizon.
It was not that long ago that the strength of the U.S. men's squad was based abroad. Judging by the poor performance of the Eurocentric national team against Ukraine earlier this month, that is no longer the case. The announcement that Bayern Munich's 18-year-old star Julian Green will now play for the U.S. is a sign that the downturn might be temporary.
With many key components of the national team leaving Europe for Major League Soccer, or never going abroad at all, the balance of talent has shifted. That does not mean there are no good American players in Europe, though. It just might be a few years before they are ready.
Green is not the only young American overseas. The next target for Jürgen Klinsmann might not be American at all—at least not yet.
While Green was born in Tampa before eventually moving to Germany, Gedion Zelalem's story is a bit more convoluted. Born in Berlin to Ethiopian immigrants, his family moved to Maryland when he was nine. Shortly before his 15th birthday, he moved to London to join Arsenal.
While he is eligible to start the citizenship process to officially become an American, that would mean Zelalem would lose his German citizenship, which in turn could lead to work permit problems with Arsenal. However, turning down a recent invitation to play for Germany in the UEFA under-17 championships keeps his American dream alive.
Green and Zelalem represent a large group of potential talent raised abroad. There is also a growing contingent of players born and raised in the States who are furthering their careers internationally, even at young ages.
Last week, the latest edition of el Clasico mesmerized soccer fans around the globe. We might be less than a decade away from turning the Blanco and Blaugrana a bit more red, white and blue.
Three years ago, Ben Lederman and his family moved from Southern California to Barcelona, as he became the first native-born American invited to train at La Masia. Drawing comparisons to a young Andres Iniesta, the 13-year-old midfielder wears the number 10 jersey for Barcelona's Infantil-A youth side and is already a part of the U.S. under-15 national team.
Not to be outdone, Real Madrid is now on the American bandwagon, bringing over young winger Joshua Pynadath from Northern California to Madrid. The 12-year-old Pynadath had been playing under ex-MLS star Jeff Baicher, but is now trained by ex-Real legend Guti at La Fabrica. His younger brother Jason is also being courted by Real.
While Brian McBride and Clint Dempsey have left, a new “Fulhamerica” could be on the horizon. Seventeen-year-old Emerson Hyndman is on the verge of a first-team breakthrough, while Luca de la Torre and William and Michael Moravek also suit up for the Cottagers’ youth squads. Manchester City has picked up 16-year-old Danny Barbir, Leicester City is grooming 15-year-old Kyle Gruno, and many other young Americans are on the books of other English clubs.
Others are ready to burst onto the scene in Germany, as well, like Joe Gyau and Russell Canouse, who are among the Americans shining brightest for Hoffenheim's youth teams. Sixteen-year-old Josh Perez is off to a good start in Italy with Fiorentina. Dozens of other potential national-team players are scattered throughout France, Greece, Turkey, Netherlands, Scotland, Scandinavia and beyond.
It's not just Europe either. Two potential U.S. playmakers are currently pulling the strings in the youth ranks in Argentina. Thirteen-year-old Ryan Palmbaum is part of Boca Juniors’ youth teams, along with 17-year-old Joel Soñora, the son of former MLS and Xeneixe star Diego Soñora. Meanwhile, U.S. youth star Alfred Koroma has joined Brazilian power Fluminense while Luis Felipe Fernandes is shining at Cruzeiro.
Closer to home, Tijuana has led the way in signing American talent to play in Mexico, including youngsters like Paul Arriola and Ernesto Espinoza. Other clubs in Mexico have also tapped into the U.S. youth market like Morelia with Jose Alfaro and Alonso Hernandez and Monterrey with young striker Joe Gallardo and midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez.
Several players coming up through Major League Soccer academies are drawing international attention, too, most notably 16-year-old Sporting KC defender Erik Palmer Brown, who is on the radar for Juventus.
The ability of MLS teams to produce international-caliber talent is vital, because for every Julian Green, there are a dozen similar talents in need of development that are already in the U.S. Chivas USA youngster John Hilton is one. A former teammate of Ben Lederman in Southern California, Hilton has impressed with the youth national team and in a brief stint with Manchester City. However, it's not that easy for his, or most, families to pick up stakes and move abroad—just so their child can get better coaching.
While all eyes will be on Julian Green's debut this Wednesday against Mexico in Arizona, there are many more young stars getting ready to shine for the U.S. in the near future. Will all of them succeed? No, but many will, and it is a sign that America's soccer roots have matured enough to produce some quality fruit for the future.