In March, paired with Oguchi Onyewu, John Brooks suffered through one of the worst performances put on by an American representing the Stars and Stripes.
In the friendly against Ukraine, Brooks’ hands flailed in the air like an inflatable tube man each time the Ukrainian forwards had him beat. He was disgraceful, but his actions were understandable. He was just a kid — athletic, talented and one for the future. But the future was not supposed to come on June 16, 2014.
In its 2-1 victory over Ghana, the U.S. parked a red, white, and blue bus after it had been tossed, tattered, and torn by the ferocious African team. At times, it seemed the American’s tournament had crashed and burned as fast as Portugal’s. Jozy Altidore was sentenced to the stretcher, Clint Dempsey’s nose was S-shaped, and Matt Besler, the most consistent and trusted of the American center backs, had come up hobbling as well.
Jurgen Klinsmann’s team was going to have to swallow a pride and defend for the entirety of the second half. There would not be any Ghanaian midfielders suffering from whiplash due to the power and pace of the American’s counter attacks.
There were nerves, but hope as well. Even with Besler wounded, Omar Gonzalez was the obvious choice for a replacement. He is a master of clearing his lines, and Klinsmann had to have known that the elder defender could fit in right alongside Geoff Cameron and hold down the fort ala Azteca 2013.
However, the camera panned across a slim young man wearing the No. 6 jersey.
When Brooks was named to the roster, it was merely a surprise because he had beaten out Clarence Goodson for a spot in the squad.
Many thought Brooks would never step foot on a Brazilian pitch unless it was to warm-up before a game or get a touch or two in before the start of a second half. Seeing Brooks chosen ahead of Gonzalez was a shock.
A feeling of vindication arose during his shaky start. He whiffed on a clearance midway through the half. Brooks was not ready for primetime, or at least that’s what we thought. Ghana equalized and we were fearful they’d grab a winner.
Then Ian Darke screamed at the most opportune moment “It’s John Brooks, it’s John Brooks!”
I couldn’t believe. You couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t believe it. He ran back to the bench at first and then he realized what he had done. Brooks waved off his teammates and belly flopped. The XI mauled him, though as they dispersed to solider on for the remainder of the match, Brooks stayed on the ground, arms over his head. Once fellow youngster Aron Johannsson pushed himself off his teammate to give Brooks some space, there was a little shake of the head from the German-American. It was as if he couldn’t believe not only what he had done, but also the faith another man had put in him.
Klinsmann could not have planned that Brooks would have nodded home a textbook header at the death, but he trusted the 21 year old to defend. Despite failing on three battles in the air, Brooks was solid defensively. He forced four turnovers and cleared the ball from danger seven times.
Brooks was the unlikely hero on a memorable night for US soccer.