John Brooks, a 21-year-old reserve defender for the United States men’s national team, added his name to the history books last night when he scored in the 86th minute to give the US a 2-1 victory over Ghanain their opening match of the World Cup.
Brooks is among the least well-known players on the U.S. roster.
He was born in Berlin to an American serviceman from Chicago and a German mother, and he has never lived in the United States. He feels more comfortable speaking German than he does English, according to SI’s Grant Wahl.
On the club level, Brooks turned down an opportunity to sign with Bayern Munich in order to get consistent playing time with his current, Hertha Berlin. That decision paid off, and he was ultimately called in the U.S. camp on the eve of the World Cup. Before the Ghana match, Brooks had only made a handful of friendly appearances for the U.S. and technically could still have played with Germany.
He is very much a dual-national:
Making the final 23-man roster was an achievement in itself for Brooks, and many questioned his selection over veteran defender Clarence Goodson. Still, he wasn’t expected to play — reserve defenders nearly never make appearances as substitutes, unless a starting centerback gets injured. But just before halftime last night, starting left centerback Matt Besler tweaked his hamstring, leaving U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsman with no choice but to insert Brooks into the game at the start of the second half. Had Geoff Cameron, the right centerback, been injured and not Besler, Klinsman said he’d have subbed Omar González instead of Brooks.
When Brooks entered as a sub, many doubted him, fearing his youth and inexperience would hurt the already-depleted US. Leading up to the World Cup, the starting defence had been the team’s biggest question mark and Brooks hadn’t even earned a spot as a starter.
But then Brooks became an American cult hero.
The craziest thing about Brooks’s late-game heroics? He dreamt the entire scene. Brooks says that two nights before the U.S. match with Ghana, he had a dream in which he came off the bench, scored the game-winning goal against Ghana on a header off of a corner kick in the 80th minute. Forty-eight hours later — give or take six minutes — it happened in real life.
The U.S. faces Portugal on Sunday.
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