Wolfsburg centre-back John Brooks has spoken of his ambitions with club and country, saying he is determined to qualify for the UEFA Champions League with the Wolves, and lead the US national team as captain.
The 28-year-old has been a mainstay in the Wolfsburg side since joining from Hertha Berlin in July 2017, but apart from featuring in five Europa League encounters in 2019/20, has not had much of a taste of European football.
"I'm honestly getting tired of watching the Champions League on Tuesday and Wednesday on the television," Brooks told SBI Soccer. "I want to play there."
"That's the reason I say we have to see every game like a final until the end of the season. After the (last six) games, hopefully we can celebrate that we qualify for the Champions League."
Oliver Glasner's side had the best defensive record in the Bundesliga up until last week, when they uncharacteristically conceded four goals in a 4-3 loss to Eintracht Frankfurt.
Berlin-born Brooks is a big reason for that. He is fourth in the league overall this season for aerial duels won (110), for example, while even in the below-par defeat to Frankfurt his performance data for pass completion (75 per cent) and tackles won (78 per cent) were above the team average (74 / 50).
Watch: Highlights of Wolfsburg's Matchday 28 encounter with Frankfurt
Those numbers also indicate that as good as the 6'4", 200-pound defender is as a destructive presence, he is also in the side for his ability on the ball, often initiating attacks with penetrating balls forward.
"I played midfield until I was 16, I played center mid," he said. "So I think that helped me a lot to be confident with the ball. I want the ball at my feet, playing from the back and making nice passes, good passes for my teammates. I think I don't have to hide behind anybody else."
That kind of fearless approach sits well with USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter, with whom Brooks is in contact with "almost after every game".
"He put in a new system. He wants to play out of the back," the centre-back said. "He wants to have possession, which I think is great because why shouldn't we have possession against [teams like] Jamaica or somebody else, with all due respect? I think for us, for the group, it fits perfectly."
One of the longest-serving members on the US national team roster, Brooks' experience and maturity are of great value to Berhalter, who is grooming an exciting new generation of players including fellow Bundesliga representatives Gio Reyna, Tyler Adams and Josh Sargent.
And the Wolfsburg No.25 is keen to pass on his knowledge to his younger teammates as captain. "Ever since I was little, in Berlin, of course I wanted to play for the U.S., and a big goal, a personal goal for me was to wear the armband," the 40-time international said.
"I think, right now I'm going into 39 camps, hopefully after that Camp 40, and I've experienced playing in the World Cup, World Cup qualifiers. I think I can help the young team and lead them to the World Cup too. I have the experience. I play every weekend and one of the best leagues.
"We also have [other] players with the potential to lead a team," he continued. "Like Zack [Steffen], Tyler [Adams], Weston [McKennie], Christian [Pulisic], but like I said, I'm at the point now I have a lot of experience and I think also I can handle the pressure and everything that a captain has to deal with."
That pressure is perhaps even greater now after the Stars and Stripes failed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, with CONCACAF qualifying for the next edition at Qatar 2022 starting in September this year.
Regardless of what happens there, Brooks is keen to continue playing his part in the coming years: "I have 2026 marked on my calendar. I want to play at home in the World Cup, in front of the American fans. This feeling again, would be unbelievable."