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Julian Green, Ben Sweat savor ‘special’ opportunity to play for USMNT in hometown

TAMPA, Fla. – United States men’s national team winger Julian Green can’t remember the last time his father, Jerry Green, got to see him play in person.

When asked Monday, Green looked down, thought for a second, sighed and simply said, “Good question.” 

“A couple years ago, I think,” he added with a chuckle.

The 23-year-old German-American player was born in Tampa, where his father still lives, but moved to Germany when he was 2 years old. His entire professional career so far has been spent with German clubs. Right now, his club team is 2. Bundesliga side Greuther Fürth, which means it’s hard for his father to even watch him on television.

That will change Thursday, when the U.S. takes on Colombia at 7:30 p.m. ET at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. ESPN2, Univision and UDN will broadcast the match.

Green, who has been capped 12 times for the USMNT, is part of the 23-man roster called up ahead of the match and said the opportunity to play in Tampa is special to him.

The U.S. trained at the University of South Florida’s Corbett Soccer Stadium on Monday and will do so again Tuesday before shifting to Raymond James Stadium on Wednesday before meeting Colombia. 

“Very special,” Green said of getting to represent his country in the city where he was born. “I love the city. I love the weather here. It’s very special to me and I’m looking forward to it.”

East Rutherford, N.J.: USA’s Julian Green fights for the ball with Douglas Costa of Brazil during their friendly match at MetLife Stadium on Sept. 7, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

The focus, of course, is on building for the future. The USMNT missed out on the 2018 World Cup and younger players are getting minutes ahead of the next World Cup cycle. The current roster has an average age of 24 years, 47 days, according to U.S. Soccer. That includes 31-year-old veteran midfielder Michael Bradley and 34-year-old goalkeeper Brad Guzan.

NYCFC left back Ben Sweat, 27, is another Florida native who may get a chance to shine in his home state.

Unlike Green, Sweat spent a good chunk of his life in Florida. He was born roughly 30 minutes outside of Tampa in Palm Harbor. He played collegiate soccer with the University of South Florida and eventually made his way to the second-tier Tampa Bay Rowdies as a professional player before signing with Major League Soccer’s New York City FC ahead of the 2017 season.

 

Sweat said he immediately spoke with his wife after he received the U.S. call-up. He’s since shaken off the excitement of the opportunity to play in front of what promises to be a large crowd of friends and family and is focused on training.

“She knows how hard I’ve worked for this and how hard I’ve worked the past couple of years,” Sweat said about his wife’s support. “She was super relieved for me and excited for me at the same time.”

He said being called up is life-changing.

“It’s a special moment,” he said before jogging onto his alma mater’s field for the first training session Monday. “It happens to be in my hometown. It’s a special moment for myself, my wife, friends, family. To be back at my old school, it’s a dream come true. I’m a bit emotional about it and I’m excited about the opportunity.

“When any player gets to the international level, it’s the highest level, and it’s been a goal of mine for a while.”

This is Sweat’s first call-up to the men’s national team. He said it’s surreal he’s getting to experience training with the national team on USF’s campus.

“A ton of friends, a ton of family,” he said when asked who will attend Thursday’s match. “There’s going to be a big number out there. I’m excited to have the support from my old club, old high school, college, old professional teams here – it’s going to be an awesome moment.”

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