Summary

  • One of four Germany-based Americans at the Copa America.
  • Voted Man of the Match against Paraguay.
  • Tournament hosts through to last eight.

One of the first names on Jürgen Klinsmann's USMNT teamsheet, Hertha Berlin defender John Anthony Brooks is fast becoming the impenetrable force of this summer's Copa America Centenario.

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Brooks was a deserving pick for Man of the Match as the USMNT beat Paraguay to book their place in the quarter-finals of the competition, but just who is the hulking Berlin-born centre-back? bundesliga.com takes a closer look…

Born in the German capital four years after the Berlin Wall came down, Brooks is the son of an American serviceman from Chicago. Signed by hometown club Hertha at the age of 18, Brooks' early promise was nearly derailed in April 2014 when he elected to get a large-scale tattoo on his back mid-season.

Brooks has matured into one of Hertha's most important players since a run-in with club management in April 2014.

"I have no sympathy for someone who decides to do such things during the season," said then-Hertha coach Jos Luhukay. Indeed, Brooks was dropped for Hertha's subsequent 2-1 loss at Bayer 04 Leverkusen on Matchday 30. Brooks was soon forgiven, however, with Luhukay reflecting: "Positive experiences aren't the only things that help young players grow up. Setbacks are part of the learning process."

Defensive stalwart

Brooks has gone from strength to strength since. The 23-year-old now has three goals from central defence in his 24 international caps, and the first of those was what really put him on the map for fans not already familiar with his domestic exploits.

Leading Ghana 1-0 thanks to Clint Dempsey's well-taken first-minute opener, Klinsmann sent Brooks on at half-time of the USA's first Group G game at the 2014 FIFA World Cup to help defend that advantage. The Americans held firm for the next 40 minutes, only for Andre Ayew to restore parity with eight minutes to go - cue Brooks' chance to shine at the other end. Graham Zuzi sent a corner into the box four minutes later and Brooks rose highest to power home the winner. It was quite literally a dream come true for the youngster.

Brooks' maiden international goal caused a social media storm.

"I told some team-mates I dreamed that I'd scored in the 80th minute and we won the game," said Brooks. "It's unbelievable."

History maker

The goal also made Brooks the first American substitute to score a goal in 84 years of World Cup history, and his Wikipedia page was edited by fans soon after, who described him, rather tongue in cheek, as "the greatest American since Abraham Lincoln."

Brooks has never actually lived in the United States, and, like his current USMNT teammates Fabian Johnson and Jermaine Jones, has represented Germany at youth level. That familiarity with German football has helped Brooks blossom into a feared Bundesliga defender, though.

Brooks was imperious at the back for Hertha in 2015/16, helping the capital club to the Bundesliga's fourth-best defensive record.

Hertha occupied the UEFA Champions League places for 20 weeks this season and conceded just 42 goals this term - a record better than all bar champions FC Bayern München, runners up Borussia Dortmund and Leverkusen, who ended the campaign in third. Hertha kept clean sheets in ten of the 20 games in which Brooks started, and his winner in Matchday 15's 2-1 win over Die Werkself provided a fitting antidote to his travails from two seasons previous. Without Brooks, it is doubtful Hertha would have gone on to qualify for Europe for the first time in seven years.

Brooks retains an affinity for tattoos - he now has images of Berlin and Illinois on either elbow - but with a new-found maturity and an ever-improving effectiveness in either box, perhaps the next time ink is required for the centre-back will be in the annals of US soccer history, with a first Copa America triumph looking increasingly possible for the USMNT.

Stuart Telford