Few concrete conclusions can be made after the United States men’s national team’s pair of friendlies against Cuba and New Zealand, but the one we can make may turn out to be significant in a month’s time.
Julian Green reappeared from his national-team exile with two impressive showings over the last week for Jurgen Klinsmann’s side.
Despite a lack of playing time at club level with Bayern Munich and the growing depth at forward for the USMNT, Green appears to be on track to make the 23-man roster for the Hexagonal round opener against Mexico on November 11 in Columbus, Ohio.
The 21-year-old, who was famously added to the 2014 FIFA World Cup roster over USMNT legend Landon Donovan, was a surprise member of the American squad for the October friendlies given his low amount of action at the start of the club season.
Although his inclusion was greeted with skepticism at first, Green walked away from the October friendlies with high praise from Klinsmann, who said after Tuesday’s 1-1 draw with New Zealand that the player is back in the picture for the Mexico game, per Goal’s Thomas Floyd:
Specifically bringing up prep for the Mexico game, Klinsmann says that "Julian Green is back in the picture." #USMNT
— Thomas Floyd (@thomasfloyd10) October 12, 2016
Green simply did what any talented player would in his situation; he took advantage of an opportunity presented to him by Klinsmann and boosted his stock immediately while others struggled to gain traction in the eyes of the USMNT boss.
Once the roster for the matches against Cuba and New Zealand was released, Klinsmann’s intention for the two friendlies was clear—the German wanted to give young players a chance to break into the first team. Older members of the squad, who are on the fringe of the 23-man roster for Mexico, were also handed one final opportunity to impress before November.
Many could have seen Green’s performance against Cuba, in which he provided a goal and an assist, as a fluke given the opponent. But he backed that up on Tuesday as he netted the lone USMNT tally in the 1-1 draw at RFK Stadium.
Green may not have been as active as others in the final third, but he took advantage of the one quality opportunity he had in front of the net. In the buildup to his 27th-minute strike, the Bayern man benefited from a flick-on by target man Jozy Altidore and a strong overlapping run by left-back Kellyn Acosta that drew the attention of the New Zealand defense.
Green took a step inside to the right and finished into the left side of the goal after New Zealand goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic kept that part of the net exposed with his positioning.
Watch @J_Green37’s first half strike to give the #USMNT a 1-0 lead against New Zealand. pic.twitter.com/VJleuhVxxz
— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) October 12, 2016
Green certainly impressed in his return to the USMNT, but now the task becomes harder as Mexico and Costa Rica await during a grueling start to the Hex—games in which the Yanks should attempt to take four points from.
The Bayern Munich man probably won’t start against Mexico given the enormity of the contest, but he could end up being a valuable asset off the bench. The only way Green will work his way into the starting lineup is if Alejandro Bedoya fails to recover from his rib injury in time and Graham Zusi is out of favor with Klinsmann.
The USMNT starting lineup should feature 18-year-old Christian Pulisic on one wing with either Bedoya or Zusi flanking Sacha Kljestan in the center. Altidore and Bobby Wood should contend for the starting forward position, and a second striker could be used from the start if Klinsmann elects to use one defensive midfielder, preferably Michael Bradley.
Green’s minuscule playing time at Bayern may be irrelevant in Klinsmann’s decision-making process given the impression he made on the USMNT manager during the latest camp.
It was noted on the ESPN broadcast on Tuesday night that Green came into camp with more fire than anyone on the USMNT staff has seen from him in the past.
With Clint Dempsey and Gyasi Zardes out for the November matches, Green can slide into a roster spot and make a difference. He will have to fight off Jordan Morris for playing time, while Klinsmann favorite Chris Wondolowski may be summoned as well to the dismay of the American public.
If Green does make the cut—and it looks like he will at this moment in time—he won’t be the only youngster ready to turn into an impact player. Pulisic is already at that stage thanks to his education at Borussia Dortmund. The teenager was thrown into the fire this summer and earned a place in the starting XI.
But there could be more youth flowing into the USMNT as well for the November 11 Hex opener. Lynden Gooch, who has worked his way into the starting lineup at Sunderland, shone in his 31-minute USMNT debut on Tuesday. With a need to lean more on the up-and-coming prospects in the talent pool before the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the 20-year-old could join Green and Pulisic as future faces of the USMNT.
Although it seems like a short turnaround from the New Zealand friendly to the Mexico match, plenty can happen over the next 30 days that could change Green’s role. All it takes is one injury for the Bayern man to move further up the depth chart. Some semblance of playing time at club level could also help his confidence, which appears to be high after his time in the USMNT camp.
Regardless of where he gains his next minutes of first-team soccer, it’s clear Green is here to stay this time around. His role should only get larger with the USMNT if he displays the progression he did against Cuba and New Zealand.
Joe Tansey covers U.S. Soccer for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @JTansey90.