USA's John Brooks return to 'hometown' Chicago for first time in 20 years

CHICAGO – US defender John Brooks has spent very little time in Chicago throughout his life, but still feels quite connected to the Windy City.

Brooks was born and raised in Germany, but his father John Brooks, Sr. was a Chicago native. Brooks has always clung to that family tie and even got a tattoo on his right elbow a few years ago of a map of Illinois with a star indicating Chicago’s location. He has a map of Berlin on his left elbow.

“My family’s from here,” Brooks said explaining the Chicago tattoo on Sunday. “My family’s here from the States, from Chicago. The [other] one is Berlin because I was born and raised there.”

Brooks is back in Chicago this weekend for the first time in about 20 years. He and the US national team will play Costa Rica in what amounts to a must-win game the Copa America Centenario at Soldier Field on Tuesday evening (8 pm ET; FS1, UniMás, UDN). Brooks still has some family in the Chicago area and expects them to be at Tuesday’s game.

“It’s the first time here since I was three years old or something like that, so it’s nice to be back here,” the 23-year-old Brooks said prior to a training session at the University of Illinois-Chicago on Sunday.

Brooks will be making his 23rd appearance for the US on Tuesday. He’s come a long way since his debut for the senior team on Aug. 14, 2013.

Brooks feels much more comfortable playing with the US than he did a few years ago. He noted that had to make some adjustments to the demands of international play in North America after having spent so much of his career playing in Germany and Europe.

“I think I finally found my spot on this team here,” Brooks said. “From the beginning, the team was nice, but when you come every time from Europe it’s a little different. Now I think I’m finally here.”

One of those experiences that helped him feel settled and prepared him for Copa America Centenario was last year’s Gold Cup. Though the US under-performed in that tournament, those games represented Brooks' first tournament matches as a starter for the USMNT, after he was used as a substitute in the 2014 World Cup.

“Of course, [it helped] a lot,” Brooks said “You really can’t compare, but it was still a good preparation to this Copa America. I know what to expect, and it’s good for me.

“Every game I learn a lot, especially the Gold Cup was a good experience, too. It wasn’t always the best conditions, but we tried our best. At the end, it was not as we wanted it to be. For me, it was still a good experience.”

Brooks has also learned to play with different US teammates. He was pleased with the way he and Geoff Cameron worked together in Friday’s 2-0 loss to Colombia.

“Every player on the team here is good,” Brooks said. “I can play good with Geoff Cameron. I think you saw it that the defense was pretty good, got to keep going.”

As the US national team gets ready for Costa Rica, Brooks believed they had to approach Tuesday’s game a lot like they did against Friday’s game against Colombia, despite defeat against the South American side.

“I think it’s not like a mentality question,” Brooks said. “We also showed a good mentality against Colombia. That mentality we have to bring  on the field also against Costa Rica.”