John Anthony Brooks' Man-of-the-Match performance as the USA beat Paraguay 1-0 on Saturday was not the first time American fans have taken notice of Hertha Berlin's big central defender. This time, though, followers of the USMNT are noting his defensive leadership rather than late-match game-scoring heroics.
Everybody loves a goalscorer. Hence, when Brooks delivered an 86th-minute game-winner in the USA's opening 2-1 win over Ghana at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the Berliner immediately became a hero in his father's homeland. Two summers after his memorable competitive debut, Brooks' emergence as a defensive leader is what has the Americans talking.
The parking areas surrounding Lincoln Financial Field were awash in pre-game party activities all day on Saturday. Scanning the names on the jerseys being worn by tailgaters, it was easy to see that young guns Bobby Wood and Christian Pulisic have captured the imagination of USA supporters.
Though goalscorers and past players proved to be the most popular choices for USA jerseys, a few fans chose to show appreciation for a current player fulfilling an equally vital, if less glorious, role. One fan who had made a two-hour drive from Maryland to attend the game believes that Brooks has emerged as one of Jürgen Klinsmann's most-vital players.
"He's really solid for the US, which doesn't really have a great back-line," says Drew, dressed in a white jersey with 'Brooks' and '6' on the back. "He holds it all together, especially because they're kind of small at the back."
Drew's words would seem prescient a few hours later when 'Jay B' would foil a three-on-one counter-attack in the 11th minute. Running toward his own box with a trio of Paraguay forwards bringing the ball quickly toward Brad Guzan's goal, Brooks showed his reading of the game and physical prowess to stay in the perfect defensive position. Once the ball was played to the left, Brooks closed quickly on the man in possession and made a brilliant sliding tackle to clear the ball, snuffing out what had appeared a gilt-edged opportunity to claim the all-important first goal.
"The Bundesliga offers much tougher competition than the MLS," said Drew, explaining Brooks' development into a world-class centre-back on German soil. "When our guys come home from Germany to play internationals, you can see that it has helped."