If you needed to pick one player who well and truly broke out for the USMNT this summer, it was John Anthony Brooks. At 23 years old, Brooks looked like the center back prospect everyone hoped he could be for the last few years, stabilizing the U.S. back line and forming a solid partnership with Geoff Cameron. Let’s take a look at his total stats for the Copa:
Games Played: 5
Minutes Played: 450
Defensive Actions: 17
Yellow Cards: 1
How bout we just change that "Anthony" to "MFn," because John Brooks became a man this summer. You might say he became a man this season with Hertha Berlin, but since not many American fans catch much Bundesliga outside of Bayern Munich’s exploits and Christian Pulisic updates, you’d be forgiven for missing Brooks becoming the stalwarts in one of the more unlikely defensive successes on the season in Germany. He continued showing that maturity this summer.
It was hard to watch Brooks play and not think back on the 21 year old who decided to get a massive back tattoo in the middle of the season, and just how far that player has come in such a short amount of time. It's hard to describe some of the ridiculous defensive challenges Brooks put in and how simple he made them look. You know what? Here’s a video of every touch Brooks logged against Paraguay. Just watch that.
That is the work of a calm, mature, international-caliber center back, and that calming effect is one the U.S. will need for several years to come.
Alright, so no one looked particularly great against Argentina. Brooks and Cameron also had a brief period, from about the 65th minute to the 85th or so against Ecuador, when both seemed to lose their heads completely. Brooks would’ve deflected in a crushing own-goal if not for a brilliant Brad Guzan reaction save, a raised shoulder that tipped the ball wide of the post and held a result for the Americans. That shoulder helped make Brooks the G.O.A.T. as opposed to the goat, but as fleeting as they might be, Brooks still had his moments of confusion. Not many, but they were there.
Copa Grade - A
A couple nervy moments prevent Brooks from getting an absolutely perfect grade, but he still grabs top marks for his showing. He’s mastering the little things that makes defense comfortable while also showing a flair for last-ditch defense. That can only be a good thing.
The knee inflammation that kept him out of the third-place match won’t need any extra rehab, and Brooks has three more seasons on his contract with Hertha Berlin. Barring a huge offer (considering his performance over the past year and time left on his contract), he will be ready to go for another season at the back with Hertha. They’ll be entering the Europa League in the third round of qualifying, so Brooks should get plenty of opportunity to keep raising his game.