“Zusi to take it...AND IT’S THERE! What about that! It’s John Brooks! It’s John Brooks for the USA! Have they stolen it?!”
With those words by the great Ian Darke, every American soccer fan who was watching the USMNT’s opening match in the 2014 World Cup rose out of their feet in bedlam. The United States had taken a late lead and it was a German-American who went down in history as the hero of the World Cup.
Meet John Brooks.
John Brooks, born and raised in Berlin to a German mom (his dad is an American serviceman), came up through the ranks at Hertha Berlin. He eventually appeared for their first team in 2013 and quickly became a mainstay in the lineup. Meanwhile, the then-20-year-old had appeared both for Germany’s U-20 team as well as the U.S. U-20s and U-23s. Then-USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann called him up to the senior team in August 2013, where Brooks made his debut in a friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina. He made his mark on the international level for the United States, eventually earning a spot on the 2014 World Cup roster.
The USMNT’s first match in the 2014 World Cup: Ghana. Ghana and the United States have had a World Cup rivalry that dates back to 2006. In 2006, Ghana knocked the United States out of the World Cup in the group stage with a victory in their final group match. In 2010, it was in the 2nd round where Ghana snuck by the United States after extra time. 2014 was billed as the match where the USMNT finally exacted revenge against their World Cup thorns.
The scene was Natal, Brazil, on June 16, 2014. It started off terrific in the 1st minute, as Clint Dempsey rocketed a shot past Adam Kwarasey to make it 1-0. The score remained 1-0 at the half, when John Brooks subbed on for Matt Besler.
The United States continued to try and keep the clean sheet, but Ghana was able to equalize in the 82nd minute with a goal by Andre Ayew. It was thought at that point that the game may end in a draw, a better result than the previous two World Cup meetings, but a result that still fell short of fans’ hopes. Then, in the 86th minute, the USMNT earned a corner kick with a chance to take the lead:
Graham Zusi executed a perfect corner, and as Geoff Cameron rose up to try and head the ball, it went just over his head to the head of John Brooks, who snapped the ball down with some strength. The ball hit the turf and bounced up past Kwarasey into the top half of the net for the goal. Brooks couldn’t believe it. He ran towards the corner flag with his hands in the air and then, as it seemed he realized the magnitude of what he had done, he dropped to the turf, stretched out, hands on his head, barely able to contain his emotion as his teammates surrounded him.
It was the first American World Cup goal scored by a substitute, and it proved to be the difference as the USMNT defeated Ghana that night 2-1. The Curse of the Black Stars was broken, and the USMNT had finally bested their World Cup rivals. From the stands, I can tell you that it was a magical night. There were screams of joy, tears from many who had been in the stands for those previous defeats against Ghana. So many emotions from the tens of thousands of American fans who made the trek to Brazil for the World Cup. The party definitely carried on into the night, and the talk of the town was John Brooks. He had become a hero for all who support the United States, and would go down in history.
The best part about this story: John Brooks had dreamed of this success a couple nights prior. In an interview with Sports Illustrated, he stated that two nights before that World Cup match, he had a dream that he had come on as a sub to head a corner kick into the goal in the 80th minute to beat Ghana. He told some of his teammates about it. Two days later, he made it a reality, though he made reality wait six minutes longer. After the match, he stated, “That was my first dream [like this]...and hopefully not the last.”
We’re going to need him to keep dreaming, as Brooks has gone on to become one of America’s best defenders. One day, another dream will become a reality, and we won’t think of John Brooks as just hero. We’ll think of him as a legend.