Even before John Brooks became a US Men’s National Team star, he was always regarded as one of the brightest prospects for the future. His brief and few appearances for US youth teams offered guarded optimism about the future of a position that had become quite unsettled after Carlos Bocanegra’s retirement and Oguchi Onyewu’s injury struggles. His goal against Ghana in the World Cup notwithstanding, he has shown the flashes of brilliance that so many have been hoping to see. In this Copa America, he has become the central defender that everyone believed he could be, with the win against Paraguay his crowning achievement.
Outside of his amazing tackle that negated a Paraguayan three on one counterattack, Brooks has been a steady hand at the center of defense all tournament. His calm and poise on the ball is something not seen in many past US centerbacks who have often been not only physical specimens but a loud and outspoken leader. Brooks is not that, but his influence continues to grow with each passing match.
“With a performance like this, I guess all of Europe is watching,” Jurgen Klinsmann said after the 1-0 win. It would be hard not to cast admiring glances at the Hertha Berlin defender, whose stock is even more on the rise for club and country after a Group Stage in which he may have been the US’ best player.
Even his central defense partner Geoff Cameron had to take a moment to admire the game Brooks had, noting that Paraguay was mainly bypassing him to try and isolate Brooks on one-on-one situations. In most of those battles, Brooks came out on top. His 14 clearances were double that of any other player against Paraguay, and while it seemed the other eight outfield players wearing the USA’s red, black and blue were losing their cool under the pressure of the moment and the Philadelphia humidity, Brooks seemed unfazed.
Far too often, US youth prospects buckle under the weight of the hype. Brooks is exactly the type of player that wouldn’t and hasn’t despite facing plenty of criticism for his performances in a USA shirt, particularly in the Gold Cup last year. He even faced a time at Hertha where he was relegated to the bench after injuries and lackluster form. His club team was a better team with him at the heart of defense, and now his national team can say the same.
Klinsmann’s drive to bring through the next generation of young talent has often hit stumbling blocks when the players have proven to be not good enough, hit a wall with their clubs, or suffered injuries and lapses in form at the wrong time. Brooks has been one of the constants as well as a poster boy for Klinsmann’s attempts to bring through a youth movement to this team, alongside the likes of Bobby Wood, DeAndre Yedlin et al. While those two have grown tremendously in the past year, Brooks now has the resumé to not only become one of the best players on his team, but one of the more in-demand players on the continent. His improvement from technically gifted though inconsistent central defender to one that is composed, strong and calm is one that certainly has saved the US during this Group Stage and is largely the reason why they are heading to the quarterfinals of this Copa America.
The next test, for both Brooks and the US, is to see just how high their ceilings go. Brooks has signed a new contract tying him to Hertha through 2019, but certainly other Bundesliga clubs as well as clubs around Europe are now giving the big American defender another look. And now that the center of defense is settled for the US once again, now they can begin to build from the back without worrying or questioning what is their last line of defense. Every position for the US in recent years has been unsettled but center back has been top of the tree, at least until now.
Now that the US has a bonafide star defender in their ranks, both the team and that star can push on to new heights, without worrying about the trap door beneath them.
A welcome change in any regard for a player that has actually met and exceed the US Soccer hype machine.
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