BRIAN SCIARETTA - Thursday, December 15, 2011
With the US U-23 team set to assemble this week in Florida, Nurnberg forward Jann George is ready to make his American debut in his first ever trip to the United States.
George, 19, earned the callup after a strong recent performance with the Nurnberg U-23 team. So far this season he has scored six goals in 14 games playing as both a forward and a midfielder. In each of the past two weeks, he has found the back of the net.
George has never played for the United States before and when he received the invitation last week from US U-23 head coach Caleb Porter, he and his family were surprised and happy with the opportunity.
"I'm very happy, and I never thought it would happen so soon," George told YA from Germany. "I would say that it surprised me a bit but it was my goal. My family and friends are all proud and happy for me. And hope that I can permanently integrate into the national team."
George will now hope to impress in his American debut in hopes of making the US team that will attempt to qualify and participate in the 2012 Olympics.
The competition is shaping up to be very deep in both the forward and midfield positions. At forward George will primarily be competing with Terrence Boyd, Juan Agudelo, Teal Bunbury, and Jozy Altidore for a spot on the team.
In the attacking midfield, his competition will be Freddy Adu, Mikkel Diskerud, and Dilly Duka.
George is entering into the camp without many expectations but he does see it as a terrific opportunity personally to play in the Olympics.
"In any case, it would be a great honor for me," George said. "I never expected to play in the Olympics but I would be very pleased at the opportunity. Many people scout you at that tournament and it can generate interest."
The US U-23 roster currently has seven players on the team that are currently based with German clubs. Of those players, George along with Royal Fennell, Terrence Boyd, and Andrew Wooten were either born or raised in Germany.
George is good friends with US international Timothy Chandler but he does not personally know the players that he will be playing with in Florida. Despite that, from what he has seen from the German-based players in the Regionalliga, he does believe the US Olympic team could be a strong one.
"I have already played against two or three players in the Regionalliga," George said. "There are good players and I think that the squad will be very strong. Of course, you also hear familiar players like Freddy Adu from. Unfortunately, I do know not know them personally, but that will come."
George was born in the city of Nurnberg in 1992 and is the son of a German mother and an American father who was stationed in Germany while serving in the US military.
When George arrives in Florida to play with the US U-23 team, it will be the first time he ever sets foot on United States soil despite being a citizen his whole life.
George's father was born in Louisiana and he still has some family there but he does not have much of a relationship with them. Despite that, he has always felt very American growing up and watches American sports constantly from Germany.
"I've never been in the United States," George revealed. "My uncle lives with his family in Louisiana but I do not have much contact with them. My heart is always for the United States. I watch the NBA, MLS, NFL, and I am very happy to now play for an American team. Of course I can also identify with Germany. I love this country and I have no problems living here."
George has been a part of FC Nurnberg's organization since he was just nine years old. In 2010 his career was beginning to take off as he was a standout performer for the club's U-19 and U-23 team.
In the fall of 2010 George's rapid progress hit a roadblock after he suffered serious knee injury. This injury was made worse by the fact he suffered several setbacks during his rehabilitation. In the end, he was forced to miss the rest of the 2010/2011 season.
Despite the injury, FC Nurnberg and Hecking saw the potential in Jann George and signed him to a three year professional contract back in January.
When George returned to playing in June it was a difficult experience to get back to full fitness. He still felt high levels of pain during initial practices but after several months back on the field, he is now finally back to where he was before the injury.
"You don't forget how to play soccer," George explained of his recovery. "I lost some weight, and had to work on my fitness. I had to work at the gym in addition to the usual training, to prevent my knee from getting worse. There have been several setbacks during preseason when I almost couldn't stand the pain. But I dealt with it, and I'm back at my former level - at the least."
This past season has also seen George adapt to new positions. During the preseason George played in the central midfield but as the season progressed he moved up top as a sole striker.
In recent weeks he has seen even more success as he gradually returned to his natural position in a formation where he was not the lone forward.
"At the beginning of the season, the coach had me starting in the midfield," George discussed. "After awhile he noticed that I can develop my full potential and improve the team at the center forward position. At first he played me as a lone striker but now we can play a 4-4-2 and I am one of the attackers."
As to where George is right now within Nurnberg's plans, it is difficult to say. When Nurnberg offered George the professional contract earlier in the year, first team head coach Dieter Heckling told the media that George was a very promising young player who was in his plans.
Since his return, George has played in three friendlies with Nurnberg's first team during international windows. In the game against FSV Erlangen-Bruck in September, George came into the game during the second half and scored two goals. He also was effective in games against Ingolstadt and Fenerbahce.
"It took me some time to get used to men's level, but I think I settled down and showed solid performances regularly," George stated. "I was rewarded for my work on the field with six league goals with the U-23s and two first team goals in three friendlies."
The main obstacle for George in terms of breaking into the first team right now is that the club currently finds itself hovering around the relegation zone. Each game now carries with it enormous pressure and there is little room to experiment with young players.
"The pressure in the first team doesn't help my situation," George said. "There's no room for the coach to give me first team minutes. I will continue to try to do my best for the U-23s to force my way into the first team some day."
"I've played in friendlies with the first team but I'm ready for more," he added. "I will get a chance if I keep working and help the club."