Photo by Perry McIntyre/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
NATAL, Brazil — Two nights ago, John Brooks had a dream that he would score a late game-winning goal.
That dream became a reality on Monday night.
Brooks scored a dramatic, 86th-minute winner to give the U.S. Men’s National Team a 2-1 victory over Ghana in their Group G opener on Monday night. Like in his dream, the 6-foot-4 centerback nodded home a corner kick and it could not have come at a much better time.
The Americans allowed an early lead to slip away four minutes earlier at Arena das Dunas, Andre Ayew punishing the U.S. back line with an authoritative finish at the near post. In that moment, the U.S. looked more like a team that would need to hang on for dear life to at least secure a point than one that could go on to win and grab all three.
It was the latter scenario that ultimately played out thanks to the the 21-year-old defender reliving his recent dream, making for a memorable and special World Cup moment for both the player and the rest of the U.S.
“It’s a great moment for me,” said Brooks, who scored in the 88th minute in his dream. “It’s unbelievable.”
Brooks being on the field at that point in the match came as a result of starting centerback Matt Besler suffering hamstring tightness in his right leg late in the first half. U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said after the match that he went with Brooks over fellow central defender Omar Gonzalez because Brooks has been playing in training as the back-up left centerback and Gonzalez as the back-up right centerback.
With admitted nerves running through the young German-American, Brooks endured an initial rough moment in the 45-minute cameo that cap-tied him to U.S. But he settled in defensively and was key in the Americans’ ability to hold off a Ghana side that bossed possession until late.
His performance will be remembered for the goal that came off a Graham Zusi corner kick, but Brooks’ overall showing also demonstrated why Klinsmann brought him into the U.S.’s World Cup roster over the likes of veterans like Oguchi Onyewu and Clarence Goodson.
“With John, we saw very early that his passing is amazing,” said Klinsmann. “He’s very calm for his age. Obviously, he’s strong in the air because he’s so tall, he has the confidence and he barely plays down so he strives. Positionally, he’s often trying to get in front of his strikers.
“This is what we read. Now we have to figure out if he’s ready for such a big thing like a World Cup already or maybe does it take him now a year or two in his development. We had the feeling – and I talk many times to his coach at his club and his sporting director there – that he’s ready for this.”
So ready that he did not let the pressure of playing in a World Cup prevent him from scoring his first international goal, which he celebrated – barely – by running aimlessly before crumbling to the ground due to being overcome with emotion.
It was a dream come true.
“It was a great moment,” said Brooks. “Couldn’t be better.”