John Brooks may have been one of the surprise names in the USA World Cup squad but his impact in Monday’s opening game against Ghana went a long way towards justifying his place.
Forced on at half-time after Matt Besler’s injury, the Hertha Berlin centre-back recovered from an early error to put in a rock-solid display, before popping up in the 86th minute to head home Graham Zusi’s corner.
Sealing a 2-1 win and revenge over the Black Stars for defeats at the previous two tournaments, Brooks became an instant national hero back in the US, while banishing some of the lingering criticism of Jurgen Klinsmann’s controversial squad selection.
One of a handful of youngsters named to the final 23 last month, the inclusion of Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin and Julian Green widely roused accusations that Klinsmann was going into Brazil with a “build now, win later” mentality and one eye on the 2018 cycle.
Aside from the much-discussed omission of Landon Donovan, veteran defender Clarence Goodson’s absence was also largely contentious, with some at a loss to explain how the raw and inexperienced Brooks deserved a place in the side over a figure who had been consistently reliable whenever called upon.
That's not to belittle the 21-year-old's worth though. Born and raised in Germany, his decision to represent the country of his father last year was considered a big coup for the US, as a player with undoubted potential to become a long-term international starter.
Nevertheless, the past season was an injury-hit one that restricted Brooks to just 16 Bundesliga appearances, coming after a 2012-13 promotion-winning campaign in which he broke through to become a regular for the club.
Furthermore, maturity questions were also raised when complications from a “large-scale back tattoo” saw the Hertha prodigy benched in April, compounded by a poor outing in the USA’s March friendly against Ukraine, which at that time appeared to put paid to any previous World Cup hopes.
However, at a physically-imposing six foot four inches, with impressive speed for his size, Klinsmann’s gamble on the left-footed stopper was clearly about upside and, though admittedly based on just 45 minutes of football, the three points in Group G suggest it’s already paid off.
|Team||Pos||Outfielder Block||Total Tackle||Last Man Tackle||Effective Clearance||Duel Won||Interception||Ball Recovery||(Accurate Pass / Total Pass) * 100||Mins|
|John Anthony Brooks||USA||DF||2||2||1||7||4||2||2||90.00||45|
Brooks was reportedly being courted by several Premier League clubs even before the tournament, including Aston Villa, Stoke City, West Ham United, Newcastle United and Everton, and Monday’s performance in only his fifth international appearance will surely serve to intensify interest.
While first-choice Besler is currently expected to be back in time for the side’s second game against Portugal on Sunday, any setback will see his promising understudy forced to further prove himself against a more challenging Cristiano Ronaldo-lead attack, looking to bounce back after their humbling 4-0 defeat to Germany.
This World Cup may have come too soon for him to display his best football, but all signs currently point towards Brooks establishing himself as a regular fixture in the US lineup in the not too distant future, by which time he and Stoke's Geoff Cameron could well be forming an all-Premier League pairing at the heart of the defence.