AMSTELVEEN, Netherlands – After helping Hertha Berlin survive another season in the Bundesliga, John Anthony Brooks believes he is more equipped to assume a leading role in Jurgen Klinsmann's US defense than he was when he hopped off the bench to score a famous winner on his World Cup debut last summer.
The 22-year-old made headlines with the late goal against Ghana in the USMNT's group opener, but did not appear again for the rest of the tournament. Brooks struggled with form and injury early in Hertha's 2014-2015 season, but rallied after the Bundesliga’s winter break to spearhead a seven-game unbeaten streak – a run that included five shutouts – that essentially earned the club the last safety slot in the table.
In 27 Bundesliga appearances, Brooks passed at a 75 percent success rate while finishing top 12 in the league in both clearances and interceptions per game. Just as importantly, he feels like the mental side of his game has also improved, with the defender able to read the game better than he had previously this season.
"I think when you play 90 minutes every week, you get more confident," Brooks told MLSsoccer.com just before the USMNT’s training session on Tuesday. "I think I showed that on the pitch."
Now done with his club tasks until fall, Brooks is aiming to show that improvement in a US shirt as the team marches through the Gold Cup this summer. Though he admits he has never watched a tourney game and has yet to face a CONCACAF opponent in 10 US caps, the Berlin-born youngster says he fully understands the fight ahead.
"I know how important and big the Gold Cup is," he said. "We want to win it."
First, though, the team will tune up for summer on Friday against the Netherlands in Amsterdam and next Wednesday in Cologne against World Cup champs Germany. Like any defender, Brooks loves to tackle top attackers and these two match-ups should offer plenty of chances to do exactly that.
"It's a good test," he said of Friday’s game against the Oranje. “It's always good to experience games against great players like this."
As for playing Germany, a national team program he left behind with a FIFA allegiance switch to the United States in 2013, Brooks seems over any possible heart pangs about playing against the country of his birth. Mostly, the one-time Germany Under-20 international just seems excited to square off against a top side full of players he knows from club life.
"It's no pressure for me," Brooks said, waving the back of his hand. "It's a special game. It's always nice to play against players you see in the league."