Sometimes, when the post-match celebrations are still raging in Bavaria, you’ll find Greuther Furth midfielder Julian Green doing something he’s done since he was a kid in Florida.
Far from the lights of the 2.Bundesliga pitches, and surely less glamorous than orchestrating Furth’s attack from the center of the park, one of the most-fouled players in the league is worried about a different kind of tackle.
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“You have to be calm,” the USMNT midfielder told ProSoccerTalk. “I like it after games, it relaxes me. You have to have confidence but also if something doesn’t go the right way, you have to stay with it and suddenly you catch a fish. In some ways it’s a little bit like soccer. Because you always have to do the right things, or the right tackle, and then you score. Or you catch a fish.”
Green’s demeanor belies his energetic presence on the pitch. Through Furth’s 2W-2D-1L start to the season, he’s been one of their top players. The 24-year-old has a pair of goals, leads the team in shots-per-game (2.6), and is completing 83.3 percent of his passes at a high danger position.
Through five match days of the 2.Bundesliga season, he’s been fouled 2.8 times per match. It’s early, but he finished the previous two seasons as the 7th-most and 4th-most fouled players in the league. Targeted.
“Every team is watching our games like we watch their games and they know which player they have to control,” he said. “Sometimes there are 2-3 guys around me but that’s soccer. If they try to tackle me or foul me, it’s no problem. I have to be a little quicker so they can’t get me.”
More a fish than a fisherman, if we’re honest.
Green has been with Furth for three seasons now, well settled after short stints at Hamburg and Stuttgart following six years as property of Bayern Munich.
He cemented his status amongst Furth supporters when he finished his first season there by scoring a goal against Heidenheim to keep the side in the 2.Bundesliga on the final day of the 2017-18 season.
His latest appearance was his 60th for the club — he has nine goals and four assists — but he’s never been a more critical part of the team than he’s been since the hiring of Stefan Leitl. The former Ingolstadt manager has started Green every time he’s eligible for selection.
“He doesn’t crack under pressure and doesn’t shy away from taking over responsibility,” Leitl said of Green. “In this season, he has already shown that he can reliably fulfill the role in the center without being restricted in his creativity or his way of playing soccer.”
Leitl credits Green for his hard work and low-key demeanor, saying the German-American’s “drive to constantly improve has a positive effect on the entire squad and team dynamic.”
He also credits the player for his adaptability and engine, capable as a No. 8 or a No. 10 in Leitl’s complex system.
“We want to keep a smart balance between higher and lower pressure phases in the game, therefore our players have to be able to quickly adapt to different tactical situations and formations,” he said. “With his skills et, Julian is able to do that. He is a very versatile player, has good technique and is eager to run a lot.”
Green has plenty of love for Leitl, who’s grown a side with a mix of youngsters and veterans. For every Green, Paul Seguin, or Marco Meyerhofer — all 24 of younger — there’s a veteran like Marco Caligiuri or Albanian national team captain Mergim Mavraj.
“(Leitl) is a big part and he made our team better,” Green said. “Not only me. Since he’s here you see the whole game of the team changed a lot.”
There may be some more American life coming through the pipeline to Furth’s first team; Eighteen-year-old midfielder Blaine Ferri (Southlake, Texas) is a regular starter on Furth II, which has started 6W-2D-1L, and right wing/right back Malik McLemore (22) has two goals in his last four matches for the second team.
“Over here the structures, especially in the youth academies are being professionalized more and more,” Leitl said. “Talented and uprising players are really benefiting from these structures. Nevertheless, you have to recognize the great work that has been and is still being accomplished in the U.S. … Soccer is on the rise in the states and there has been a great increase in talented American players that make it to a professional level in Europe.”
It helps that Green is comfortable in his shoes, and his position. He’s 24 and in the final year of his contract. Furth wants to keep him around beyond the season. He wants to get to the highest level, and would be thrilled to do it with Furth.
Green’s track back to the USMNT picture is in a similar place. He’s just trying to control the controllable. Multiple times, he expresses a desire to let his play do the talking. His international tenure has been a roller coaster from its dawn, representing both Germany and the U.S. at youth international levels.
Eventually won over by Jurgen Klinsmann, Green earned his first cap at 18, turned 19 two months later, made the 2014 World Cup roster, and scored two minutes into his first and only match of the tournament. You remember the goal.
He’d earn just five caps in the next three-and-a-half years, scoring against Cuba and New Zealand in 2016, before becoming a regular contributor for interim boss Dave Sarachan. He scored against France in a run of six-straight caps, but Gregg Berhalter was hired and has yet to call up the midfielder.
He wants back in, but is willing to keep working and hope for the call.
“For a soccer player it’s one of the best feelings to wear your nation’s jersey and it’s a big goal for me to get back there,” Green said. “Right now I’m focusing on Furth and I want to make good games here and then we’ll see what will happen in the future.”
Given his background as a highly recruited dual national, Bayern Munich academy product, and World Cup goal scorer, it’s easy to forget that Green carries a lot of Florida in his back pocket. Not just the fishing, but his Twitter feed is equal parts U.S. Soccer and the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning.
“I played hockey ’til I was 10 years old,” he said. “I still love watching hockey, especially the playoffs, maybe not last season because I love Tampa Bay Lightning. I don’t want to give them too much pressure this season but I think this time there’s no way any other team can win the Cup but them.”
That’s a pressure he’s not placing on Furth, who is off to another fine start in a bid for promotion and the club’s first Bundesliga season since 2012-13.
“We can’t say what will be in May but we have to be calm and play our game. This season it’s the best 2.Bundesliga ever. There are many big names like Stuttgart, Hamburg, Hannover or Nuremberg. So for us right now it’s hard to say we have to get to the Bundesliga but we all want to win and at the end we are all playing to win.”
Furth’s next match comes against winless Labor Wiesbaden on Sept. 13. Two of the next three come against big boys Stuttgart and Hamburg, and will provide a real glimpse at Furth’s chances to mount a successful season-long campaign.