Preseason friendlies are routinely described as meaningless. But in the case of American striker Julian Green, an exhibition game in Charlotte has opened the door to an opportunity that seemed to have passed him by.
Green struck a hat trick within 35 minutes for Bayern Munich as it ripped apart Italian opponent Inter Milan, 4-1, at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday — a performance which now looks to have earned him a chance to be part of the first-team squad with the German champions.
The renewed hope for a once-rapidly ascending career is pinned to Bayern Munch’s new manager, Carlo Ancelotti. The only coach to have reached four Champions League finals and to have won it three times has chosen to play Green as a central striker rather than on the right flank. That is a role he will continue in, Ancelotti told The Washington Post this past weekend.
“I think he is better in the middle because he is quick, fast and has good timing against the defensive back line, I think that is his best position,” said Ancelotti, talking at the team’s hotel in Hoboken, N.J.
“Of course, he can also play out wide but I think he is more efficient when he plays at center forward. I think it is good for him to stay there,” he said.
Green, 21, certainly looked like a natural striker on Saturday. His opening goal was a near-post flick from a David Alaba cross. Then he produced a clinical left-footed finish after being put free by Franck Ribery before completing his hat trick with a close-range shot from a low cross by Rafinha.
“I think he has the instincts in the box,” Ancelotti said. “He has the instinct to lose his marker. His first goal was really good, he attacked the front post and it was a very good finish.”
Increased playing time in the Bundesliga figures to only help Green’s prospects with the U.S. national team.
Green was born in Tampa but moved to Germany as a 2-year-old and was part of Germany’s youth programs before switching his allegiance to the United States ahead of the 2014 World Cup, when he was a surprise — and controversial — inclusion in Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad for Brazil ahead of Landon Donovan. Then, less than a month after turning 19, he became the youngest player in U.S. men’s history to score in a World Cup with his volleyed goal in defeat against Belgium in the round of 16.
That World Cup impact was supposed to launch his club career. Bayern, where Green played since 2010, loaned him to Hamburg to get more playing time in the Bundesliga. But he made little impact and was back at Bayern last season, mostly stuck on the reserve squad, which plays in the fourth tier of German soccer. His international profile was also diminished: He has made only one appearance with the U.S. national team since the beginning of 2015.
While Bayern’s former manager, Pep Guardiola, clearly saw little to excite him in the speedy winger, his replacement, Ancelotti, has handed Green a chance to impress.
Ancelotti said Green, who also scored in the coach’s first game in charge of Bayern — a 4-3 win over lower-division SV Lippstadt last month — will not be loaned out this season and will be part of the squad, which is aiming for a fifth straight Bundesliga championship and a sixth Champions League title.
“He will be with us. There is a lot of competition in the squad; it won’t be easy for him to play but this preseason he is doing well. He’s scored four goals, he is moving well, he is playing well with the team. He has to improve but he is young,” he said.
The competition up front includes Polish forward Robert Lewandowski, who scored 42 goals in 51 appearances in all competitions for Bayern last season and is the clear first choice at center forward. German World Cup winner Thomas Mueller is among the other attacking options available to Ancelotti.
But as the former AC Milan, Real Madrid, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain coach acknowledged, Bayern have to fight on several competitive fronts this season, making Ancelotti likely to rotate his squad and perhaps opening the door further for Green.
“There is the Champions League and there is the Bundesliga and we have a squad in order to be competitive in all competitions. The season will be really long but we have a squad to manage all the season,” he said.
It might be a German Cup match or a low-key Bundesliga or early round Champions League fixture but Ancelotti will expect, when Green’s chances come, that he will take them with the hunger and precision he showed in Charlotte.