While it ended in defeat for the United States men’s national team (USMNT), the round-of-16 clash with Belgium at the 2014 World Cup was an important moment in the team’s recent cultural history.
Their performance in the 2-1 defeat after extra time was lauded for its energy, desire and refusal to give up, with Tim Howard briefly turned into a meme for his astonishing number of saves, while a congratulatory call with President Barack Obama followed.
Another notable factor was the goalscorer for the US – Julian Green, who netted with his first touch of the whole tournament, and in doing so became the youngest player to score at Brazil 2014, or at any World Cup for the USMNT.
That goal – a sharp volley in the 107th minute to revive the game after Belgium had gone two-up – put Green firmly in the wider US sporting consciousness, and there was great anticipation as to what Green would do next.
Just 19 years of age, and on the books of one of the world’s biggest teams in Bayern Munich, it appeared Green was poised to be the first US soccer superstar of the social media age.
Yet for Green, now 26, the reality has been exile from the USMNT, while playing in Bundesliga not for Bayern, but for a team whose record makes Schalke last season look competent.
Born in Florida to an American father and German mother, Green moved to Germany with his family when he was two. He remains firmly attached to his Floridian roots, however, with his Twitter page revealing a particular love for NHL side Tampa Bay Lightning.
His youth international career was similarly mixed. He represented Germany at U16, U17 and U19, but also USMNT with U18 and U23 sides.
Eventually, Green settled on the US, and was selected for the 2014 World Cup after making his senior debut a few months earlier, controversially called up ahead of the legendary Landon Donovan.
“I talked with [then Bayern manager] Pep Guardiola about it and asked him what he thinks,” Green told ESPN in January this year.
“He told me you have to listen to your heart and what your heart is saying. I remember my first camp was in Germany, actually, and after two minutes in this camp, I knew I wanted to play for America.
“I remember Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley, they were all so nice to me, and I knew exactly that I wanted to play for this country. It was an easy decision in the end.”
Green went to the World Cup and scored that goal – yet has since been left behind, in part because of a club career which misfired at precisely the point things looked to be taking off.
After 15 goals in 23 appearances for the reserves, he was registered with Bayern seniors for 2014-15. However, he was sent on loan to Hamburg to get first-team experience – which proved to be a disaster.
He played five league games all season, all from the bench, failing to score. The manager who signed him, Mirko Slomka, was sacked days after Green made his Hamburg debut, and the 19-year-old was moved to the reserve team in the German fourth tier.
“He has to impose himself there. The under-23 team is no trash can after all,” Hamburg sporting director Peter Knabel told Bild. “It’s the flagship of our academy.”
Green was picked out of the trash and returned to Bayern for 2015-16, and although he scored a pre-season hat-trick in the first 35 minutes of a friendly with Inter, and continued to play regularly for the reserves maintaining a respectable scoring record – 10 in 28 that season – his first-team chances were rare and fleeting.
Green needed to move on for regular football and, in December 2016, joined Stuttgart in 2.Bundesliga.
He helped the fallen giants back to the German top flight that season, but was sent on loan to Greuther Furth back in the second tier in 2017-18.
Green ensured his place as a club hero on the final day, scoring a late equaliser to save them from relegation, and joined on a permanent deal in the summer.
Last season, his nine goals in 30 league matches played a major part in helping Greuther earn promotion to Bundesliga, although things have been tough so far.
Green has gone nine games without scoring in the league so far, playing primarily as a central midfielder, and the club have one point from their opening 12 matches, already looking doomed to an immediate return to 2.Bundesliga.
Greuther’s dire form is also not helping Green’s case with USMNT – although things have been difficult for a while.
Stuck on 15 caps and four goals, he has not made a competitive appearance since 2018 as he so far fails to impress coach Gregg Berhalter.
“I’m in contact [with Berhalter] every once in a while,” Green told Transfermarkt. “Ahead of the season, we had the Gold Cup, but I couldn’t play there because it was right in the middle of the pre-season preparation.
“It is difficult to say why I am not called up; I think I can help the team and I’m available. At the end of the day, the coach makes the decision, and I can only give my best, improve my game and respect the decision of the manager to leave me out.”
With stars such as Christian Pulisic and upcoming wonderkids like Gio Reyna, there is a sense that Green has been left behind and has become yesterday’s man.
However, having been repurposed as a central midfielder in recent seasons, a position where the USMNT are less well-stocked, there is a little more reason behind Green’s frustrations.
“In all the youth teams, I played in the midfield,” he told ESPN earlier in 2021. “But also sometimes on the wing and sometimes as a striker. I’ve not ever had a real position.
“At Bayern I played as a striker, as a winger, and there really wasn’t a position for me, but then I came to Furth and started playing in the middle, and I think that was a very good decision. That’s my favourite and best position.”
This adaptability has been a positive for Green, but is also something of a curse – deployed as a striker for Bayern, a winger for USMNT, and now a midfielder, it appears some of his coaches have not known what to do with him.
It looks tough for Green to ever recapture the magic he generated on that night in Salvador, when he looked primed to launch a new era for US men’s football.
With time and determination on his side, however, it is not too late for American fans to see some of the spark he produced seven years ago.