NATAL, Brazil – John Brooks might not have been able to dream up the moment during waking hours, but his subconscious saw history coming before it was made.
In the days before the United States’ Group G opener against Ghana, Brooks had no reason to think the label of "national hero" lay in his future. He went through the motions in training. He called his family back home in Germany and Illinois, told them he’d be on the bench on Monday night at Arena das Dunas.
This was the 21-year-old’s first World Cup, and he had just four US appearances to his name. Brooks wasn’t even cap-tied to the United States yet. Game-winning goal? Only in his wildest dreams.
Only sometimes dreams come true and fate takes over. So when Matt Besler’s balky hamstring forced the Hertha Berlin man in at halftime and Graham Zusi’s outswinging corner kick found his head to break a 1-1 tie, making him as unlikely a household name as any on the US team, Brooks thought back to two nights before.
“It’s a great moment for me. It’s unbelievable,” he told reporters, a FIFA-mandated doping keeping him from meeting Vice President Joe Biden in the locker room following the win. “I had a dream, told some teammates that I dreamed that I scored in the 80th minute and we win the game. And now it was the 86th minute and we won.”
You could almost see the disbelief on Brooks’ face as he celebrated a goal seen by more Americans than any other in the nation’s history, a goal that will rightfully take its place in USMNT lore. He’d dreamt it, then he’d done it, a storyline the soft-spoken dual citizen couldn’t have made up if he’d tried.
Of course, in his dream and in real life, the goal came via a towering header. No word on whether fellow substitute Zusi delivered the ball that time around.
“He’s what? 6-foot-6? So he’s a pretty good target,” Zusi told reporters. “I like having big guys in there. He’s one of those big guys that crossers of the ball love to have in the box. He made a made a great little double run there to get open, and his header was great.”
Technically, Brooks said, he’s 6-foot-4, but who’s really sweating the details?
All that matters is that his REM-induced vision mirrored reality, even if the events that forced Brooks into the lineup were less than ideal.
Besler was scheduled to undergo an MRI on his right hamstring, which tightened up five minutes before the end of the first half, on Tuesday. Klinsmann said following the match that removing his first-choice central defender was a precaution and the injury was “no problem,” an evaluation the Sporting KC man didn’t seem so sure about.
If Besler is unable to go against Portugal in Manaus on Sunday (6 pm ET, ESPN), Brooks, who was the target of criticism after making the 23-man World Cup roster over the likes of Clarence Goodson, will almost certainly stay in the lineup. Though Omar Gonzalez has more international experience, Klinsmann said the youngster is the backup at left central defense.
“I don’t expect anything,” Brooks said when asked about the possibility of starting against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo at the mouth of the Amazon. “I just do my best in every chance I get.”
Goal aside, he earned at least another crack at World Cup glory after played admirably on the defensive side of the ball on a muggy night in Natal, spending 45 minutes thwarting attack after attacker by Ghana, clearing the ball from danger and dominating in the air as expected.
“Since the first time he’s come in, he’s shown a commitment, willingness, a certain amount of pride to be within this group,” Michael Bradley told reporters. “Obviously he’s not a big talker, but everyone can see what a great guy he is. He came on in a difficult situation and did really well and got a great winner for us.”
Now if the US could just get the quiet young man to open up on the field and command with his voice as well as his physical gifts, they might really have something. Brooks says he’s making progress in that regard, with goalkeeper and chatterbox Tim Howard urging him on.
For now, though, he’s content to ease his way into international waters after a magical moment in the spotlight. And who knows? Maybe more dreams are in the offing.
“First dream,” Brooks chuckled, “hopefully not the last.”