As far as US Soccer goes, there was nobody entering the 2014 World Cup with more pressure on his shoulders than head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. He was the one who left all-time leading goalscorer Landon Donovan off his 23 man squad. He was the one who said he didn’t believe his own team could win the World Cup. He was the one that took a largely young, inexperienced, untested side to Brazil – one that looked like it was building towards 2018 instead of winning in 2014.
One header from John Brooks took all that pressure off Jurgen Klinsmann’s shoulders.
One of the great things about soccer is that a game played over the course of 90 minutes can be defined by a solitary moment of time. In spite of the hundreds of passes played, the shots taken, the saves made, all it takes is one moment in time to produce something that can decide victory or defeat.
John Brooks is a perfect example of this. Thanks to one goal on a corner kick he went from a name only diehard fans were aware of to becoming an American folk hero.
When Brooks was named in the 23 man squad at the expense of other more veteran options like Clarence Goodson or Michael Parkhurst, it was a true sign of Klinsmann’s stamp on the roster. Getting Brooks to commit his future to the USMNT last year was a big victory for Klinsmann in continuing to recruit talented players with dual nationalities. But it was a victory that was largely seen as one for the future in the continuing building of the American soccer system, not necessarily for the 2014 World Cup. (See the omission of Donovan, Landon.)
Here was a young, athletic, German-American centerback very high on potential, but low on any tangible international experience. In fact, his most notable performance in a USA jersey came in a very shaky performance in a friendly against Ukraine. Against a middle-of-the-pack European nation not even competing at the World Cup, Brooks didn’t look like he would be up to the task. With just a few caps to his name before this tournament began, the consensus was that Brooks wasn’t ready.
One moment changes everything.
Brooks came on as a sub for the injured Matt Besler at halftime against Ghana and was thrown immediately into the fire. Although there were a couple nervy moments from the centerback, he also showed flashes of what makes him such a promising recruit for the USMNT. His physical presence in the box was key as the USA had to defend for their lives over much of the course of the second half. However, nobody could have expected what was to come with just a few minutes to play after Ghana had scored a dramatic equalizer – Brooks scoring the game-winning goal in a World Cup game.
Suddenly, Klinsmann’s decision to name Brooks to his 23 man World Cup squad was transformed from “surprise inclusion” to “masterstroke of genius.”
Suddenly, Klinsmann’s decision to include so much youth on his roster was transformed from “building for the future” to “winning now.”
A young World Cup squad that was once labeled as young and inexperienced now looks supremely gifted and ready to tackle the rest of the Group of Death. A win or even a draw against Portugal should set the USA up nicely for advancing to the knockout stage, where anything is possible. And given Portugal’s humiliating 4-0 defeat against Germany, even the most pragmatic of American soccer fans would consider any kind of positive result to be a decent chance. Now instead of pessimism about the USA’s chances to make a run in this tournament, there is real optimism.
Brooks’ header was more than just a single goal or three World Cup points for the USA. It was a vindication for Klinsmann’s movement. Winning the Gold Cup last year was a start, the record winning streak last year was another significant line on the resume, but the coach needed something positive at this World Cup. And make no mistake, with the roster assembled heading to Brazil, this was fully Klinsmann’s tournament.
Maybe Parkhurst or Goodson also scores on that header in that moment – we will never know. But the fact that it was Brooks, one of Klinsmann’s prized recruits, will be a priceless moment for the German coach.
Klinsmann needed something to prove to his skeptics and the American soccer community with all the questions surrounding his 23 man squad. Klinsmann needed to both produce results at the highest level and show that he was taking US Soccer in the right direction for the future in Brazil. Heading into the tournament, it seemed like those goals were out of reach for Klinsmann and US soccer.
And all it took was one ball off the head of John Brooks to turn the narrative upside down.