There are very few unenviable positions in professional sports, but being a rising superstar in the world of international soccer may be as close as you can get.
The list of “next big things” who fell short of the inflated standards set by fans and media, particularly in Europe, runs long. The names Freddy Adu, Andy Carroll, and Shuan Wright-Phillips come to mind.
But that’s the position 19-year-old Julian Green finds himself in, whether he likes it or not. Born in Tampa but raised in Germany, the dual-national had the choice to play for the U.S. or Germany.
And when he made the surprise choice of wearing the red, white and blue, soccer fans in this country saw it as a crucial moment for a nation still trying to build a solid foundation.
There’s been a lot of speculation surrounding his decision. After all, Germany is a world powerhouse.
But to really understand it, you have to understand his roots to Tampa and the relationship he has with his father, a proud U.S. military veteran.
A tale of two countries
Following his parents’ divorce, Green moved to Germany with his mother when he was 2 years old. He still speaks with a thick German accent, though his English is getting better in his short time with the national team.
All those years growing up included frequent trips back to Tampa, where he fell in love with American culture. In fact, Green’s first sport wasn’t soccer. It was hockey. He considers himself a big Tampa Bay Lightning fan.
And his biggest passion off the field is one of the reasons why he loves Florida.
“Fishing is his place,” said his father Jerry, who has lived in Tampa for 20 years. “Ballast Point. He’s a serious fisherman. He’s been going there ever since he was (little).”
"Ballast Point,” Julian said. “Yeah, it's my favorite place. I love being there."
His No. 1 Fan
Jerry is an extremely proud father. Watch him at a match for merely five minutes, and it’s easy to see.
How could he not be?
Jerry spent most of his life serving in the military at MacDill Air Force Base's Central Operations Command. American pride is in Jerry’s blood.
Now, his son is representing the country he spent so many years serving.
But earlier this year when Julian had to decide between Germany and the U.S., Jerry had a decision, too. He could pressure his son or sit back.
“At the end, he told me it was my decision,” Julian said. “He said you have to go with your heart.”
Julian’s heart was with America, and Jerry said he'll never forget watching his son represent the U.S. for the first time.
"That was a huge thing to have your son donning the red, white and blue, representing this country. That was huge,” he said. “The national anthem was played. It's hard to describe what that feels like."
What the future holds
Julian only has a handful of minutes with his club Bayern Munich in Germany. Don’t let that fool you. The fact that an American 19-year-old is even with that club is one of the most significant events for soccer in this country.
To put it in perspective, Bayern has 15 players at this year’s World Cup – the most of any club in the world. Most of them are representing the country Julian could have, Germany.
But Julian is taking a different route, and make no mistake: Some would argue it’s a tougher one. The U.S. is hungry for a superstar playing in Europe.
And that kind of pressure takes a certain personality.
Julian seems to have it.
Above everything, he said he's humble and hungry to work hard for America.
"I'm a young player," he said. "I want to give my best on the field and in every training session. If I get the chance, I want to help the team. I hope we can do something in Brazil."
The U.S. begins the tournament Monday evening against Ghana. There’s a good chance Julian could feature off the bench at some point in the group stage.
Whatever the case, he said he’s just happy to be heading to the World Cup (and his first trip to Brazil).
And now, he goes there with the support of an entire nation.