John Brooks could not have asked for a better FIFA World Cup™ debut. On what was only his fifth senior appearance for USA, the defender came off the bench to nod the winning goal against Ghana – a team that had beaten the Stars and Stripes in the group phase of Germany 2006 and the Round of 16 at South Africa 2010.
“I couldn’t imagine a better first goal for the team, and the fact it won us the game makes it even better. It’s simply wonderful,” said Brooks to FIFA.com, after an encounter in which Jurgen Klinsmann’s charges sank the Black Stars 2-1 thanks to his 86th minute clincher.
Welcomed into the dressing room following the match with a rapturous round of applause, the 21-year-old was still clearly struggling to take it all in: “That was a really emotional moment. I wasn’t expecting it and it shows the great atmosphere we’ve got in this squad. All I can do is be very thankful to them all.”
“He used his head very well in that set-piece play,” said experienced keeper Tim Howard. “He’s a brilliant lad, this is a great opportunity for him and I’m really happy for him.”
I couldn’t imagine a better first goal for the team, and the fact it won us the game makes it even better. It’s simply wonderful.
Brooks, who came on for Matt Besler at half-time, also had words of praise for USA’s beaten opponents, with the likes of Asamoah Gyan keeping him and his fellow defenders on their toes. “He proved that he’s an exceptional striker and one who’s very difficult to stop,” he said. “But, we were well prepared for what was to come and held out pretty well.”
Yet though primarily brought on to shore up United States’ backline, Brooks made his biggest impact in an attacking sense – timing his run just right to head home a corner from another substitute, Graham Zusi. USA thus finally beat a Ghana side that had edged the North Americans 2-1 at the finals in 2006 and 2010.
What is more, the Hertha Berlin starlet had been something of a surprise selection for Brazil 2014, with a degree of controversy surrounding the choice of someone so young to bolster an already youthful and inexperienced defence. “Experience is always important and of course it helps, but even though we’re very young we’re very well-prepared and I think that today we proved we’re very good players.”
Boasting a tattoo on one elbow featuring a map of Illinois with the city of Chicago marked out, as a nod to where his father was born and his father’s family still live, on the other elbow is a map of Berlin, a further nod to his German mother and the place where Brooks was born and raised. All of which points to something of a family conundrum on the horizon, given USA will tackle Die Nationalmannschaft in Recife in their final Group G game.
“It’s still a long way off,” said Brooks as the conversation drew to a close. “First of all we need to keep preparing, stay focused on Portugal and then we’ll see.” And though come 26 June there may be mixed feelings in the Brooks household, tonight, after John’s late heroics for the Stars and Stripes, there will only be celebrations.