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Following Gold Cup lessons, Brooks looks to stand out amidst heavy competition


Photo by Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports


WASHINGTON – Last summer, John Brooks became an American soccer hero with his goalscoring performance at the World Cup, but its the lessons learned at this summer’s Gold Cup that have had the largest impact on the young central defender.

Partnered with a fellow youngster in Ventura Alvarado, Brooks experienced his first real taste of international struggles throughout the U.S. Men’s National Team’s Gold Cup run, a campaign that yielded a disappointing fourth-place finish.

Despite all of his international experiences in Brazil, this summer’s Gold Cup provided Brooks with a variety of new challenges. Having never faced a CONCACAF side in his young international career, Brooks got his first taste of intra-confederation battles unlike any seen in his earlier appearances. Having never started in a major tournament, Brooks experienced the pressures and criticisms that come with being a major player in the heart of a disappointing U.S. defense.

With those experiences now in his back pocket, Brooks believes he is now much better for it. Having faced challenges from both his competition and his critics, Brooks now knows what to expect going forward, especially heading into October’s Confederations Cup playoff against Mexico.

“It was a completely different game. It was like war,” Brooks said of the Gold Cup. “Every game was like war. There were very tough games, very hard games. Of course, it helps to prepare for Mexico.

“Not only for Ventura and me, it went for the whole team a little bit unlucky,” Brooks added, “but you have to keep going, and that’s what I’ll do.”

Now, Brooks finds himself in the midst of a fight, one to reclaim his position as the USMNT’s starting centerback.

Ahead of Friday’s friendly against Peru, Brooks is just one of seven players capable of occupying a spot in the center of the U.S. defense.

On one hand, there are veterans like Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler, two players with World Cup experience that could prove vital in October’s one-off against Mexico. On the other, there’s Brooks and Alvarado, a duo that has struggled together, but could be the key to the USMNT’s future.

Brooks says that, at least in training, things have not been so clear cut. Leading up to Friday’s friendly, pairings have been rotated, matching Brooks with Alvarado, Gonzalez and everyone in between.

Regardless of which combination earns the start this weekend, Brooks says the unusual amount of central defenders has bred even more life into an ever-changing competition. With time now dwindling ahead of Mexico, the battle in central defense has never been more fierce, as players like Brooks attempt to seize, or reclaim, the starting gig.

“We’re blessed with a lot of good centerbacks in different leagues, different environments,” Klinsmann said, “so that battle is ongoing since I took over, for more than four years. We continue that because we want them to be on their toes. We want them to be accountable for things that they’re doing with their club teams and, especially, when they’re with us.

“There’s no guarantee to anybody. It’s ongoing and we evaluate every training session, very intense training sessions, and we want to see their personality, their soccer-specific qualities and then we put the puzzle together as a team as well, so it’s fascinating, but it’s not easy for the players.”

Brooks certainly agreed with Klinsmann’s assessment of the difficulty, citing each player’s desire to show “a little more.”

With the experience of a challenging Gold Cup embedded in his memory, Brooks is looking to continue his evolution into a legitimate starting defender on the international level. Now battling with the best centerbacks the U.S. has to offer, Brooks says its up to him to re-earn Klinsmann’s faith by applying lessons learned in the coming months.

“Of course I was a little bit disappointed because everybody wanted more,” Brooks said, “but for me, it was good to learn. It was a new competition, a new type of soccer. They were very tough games, very hard games and I got a lot out of it.

“It’s always good when coach trusts in you. I try and pay him back with good games and try and go hard.”


  1. I feel like Brooks and Alvarado are getting a little too much blame for the Gold Cup finish. The fullbacks and #6 let us down just as much, and besides defense is a team effort. And beyond that, we should be scoring more than 1 goal against the kind of competition we faced there. Why haven’t the forwards and midfielders been scrutinized for the lack of scoring? For me, the passing and movement in the middle and final 3rd were downright awful in the Gold Cup. It was especially glaring and disappointing after the way the team played in the recent Europe friendlies. You lose the ball enough times in the middle of the field and give the opponent enough counters, eventually you will be punished for it, regardless of who is playing at CB.

    • BINGO. The CB’s got way too much blame for the Gold Cup. We couldn’t keep the ball the first few game, and we didn’t score enough. Period. Not to say the CB’s we good, but just as much blame should go to the offense or lack thereof.

  2. Compare Brooks last month vs. Last year.
    He already made a huge jump from turning from a boy to a man.
    The narrative before the knock out games:
    Brooks looks the part and looks ready to take over as the LCB and lead the back line.
    The narrative after the Gold Cup:
    Brooks is our future but he’s not there yet.
    I’d like to point out a few things:
    1- Yes he was paired with Alvarado, who has a ways to go yet
    2- He was part of a backline that included Chandler, who didn’t have a good tournament
    3- Everyone slamming the play of the backline from the GC should include this qualifier when judging Brooks- Our midfield was just awful. They couldn’t string 3 passes together, they all looked like their first touch was defined by a “ball trapped within 15 yards”, their passes had the pace of a Nolan Ryan fastball or gently arrived at the feet of someone not on our team.
    4-Beckerman, who excels at the 6, had his worst performance I’ve seen in a long time, and he went from really slow to even really slower.
    So when I see these comments from Brooks, I think he’s one guy who can say he learned a lot from the GC, and have a lot of validity to it, not just a typical boring cookie cutter interview.

  3. I’m not saying your wrong about wanting experience over youth, I just think you came off as harsh to nullify JB just because he said he learned something from the Gold Cup. And I think if you find an interview with Tim Ream he would say the exact same things about the Gold Cup.

  4. I’ve liked Brooks as a prospect since he made his switch. However, the taste of the 4th place finish has shifted the way I look at these dual national “signings” and I see them as far less important than avoiding that taste in the future. I think we get jaded by a lot of the publicity of the rumor mill and how we’re getting the next star to take us to a level of glory we who read this blog all dream of. It makes us take for granted all of the success we’ve had in competitions like the Gold Cup throughout the 2000s (barring 5-1 loss to Mexico) when guys like Boca, Onyewu, McBride et al. used their experience, toughness and athleticism to turn us into the power we became (all relative, of course). This was when it wasn’t as trendy to wear the R,W,B.

    For this reason, I want someone like Ream to start against Mexico. Ream wouldn’t be making comments like Brooks in this interview about how the 4th place effort was a good learning experience. As he’s learned in his career (or the words of Legendary Ricky Bobby), if you don’t (see: a’int) win (see: first), no one cares what you learned or whether you scored a goal (see: yer last). Ream also gets what it means to be a consistent performer in a top league, not a quality prospect who has serious lapses in concentration and form at times.

    Off the soap box. I just don’t like Brooks’ comments and they’re telling of a player with less experience. Stick in the guys that see the learning and rise in their value tertiary to winning, followed closely by winning.

    • Relax its press speak. He’s trying not to sound like a jerk and move past two bad losses. The most important game is the next game, those comments are exactly what you would hear from any athlete in a similar situation in any sport. And yes English is his second language so he’s probably trying to keep his comments simple to avoid any silly language mistakes.

    • Comments about learning from a loss are hardly unusual or misguided. Losing really sucks, but If there is anything positive that comes from it, or that differentiates those who grow from those who stagnate, it is the ability to acknowledge, examine and learn from failure/mistakes, then move on. Funny you mentioned Ream as one of the running themes of his recent interview was his having grown/learned from his past mistakes.

      • I’ll take some good pontification on the part of you both. I think in my mind it’s more about taking a chance on ‘experience,’ instead of ‘youth.’ Experience that while maybe less proven on an international stage, is still experience, and youth is youth, no matter what the ceiling. I’ll be interested to see how the CB situation plays out in particular, and especially given the troubles we had during the Gold Cup. I just wouldn’t be surprised to see ‘experience’ finding it’s way onto the field given the importance placed on this Final. God, I hope we have what it takes.

      • I’ll agree with that. Particularly at CB which exposes inexperience like no other position… let alone having 2 inexperienced CBs paired together. I think Brooks and Alvarado both are very promising, and that putting them in to sink or swim is good in theory. What I didn’t so much agree with was counting on them when the chips were down in GC. That said- they seem to be scapegoated when there is lots of blame to go around team wide. A very experienced Beckman, for example, had a really bad tourney and left them exposed more than a few times.

      • Exactly. They were young and inexperienced and had NO HELP from the experienced vet, with tons of CONCACAF games,and who was supposed to provide defensive cover. Beckerman was terrible

    • I think what you said is fair and reasoned, except, I think Brooks’ comments have nothing to do with him being a multi-nation eligible player at one point. I could easily imagine, probably because it’s happened in the past more than a few times, any young player making these statements after a lackluster tournament.

      That aside though, I don’t like hearing him say that the whole team was a bit unlucky, or that he was only a little disappointed, and it was because everyone else wanted more. I mean, that doesn’t bother me though, because I know he is still maturing as a man and, maybe more importantly, growing into the language. For example, to me it doesn’t sound right for an international player to say he is trying to play good and hard to pay back his coaches trust. Even if it may be the truth, you should always play your hardest, especially for your country, regardless of outside influences. Making it sound like you play differently depending on your status with the coach, is awkward even if utterly honest.

      I love words and how people use them, but despite how interesting it is to dissect the words of a NT prospect, or anyone, unless we’re talking about a writer or orator, actions will always speak louder. Let’s have some patience to see what exactly he’s learned.

    • Remember that this is still a very young man of only 22. He played his first professional game 3 years ago. He is also relatively new to international soccer. I looked him up on Wikipedia and found out that last season he had a passing accuracy of 75% which sounds pretty good for a CB and he was ranked well in clearances and “direct duels”, which sounds like stopping guys one on one.

  5. What’s the saying…..”luck is when preparation meets opportunity”? Sorry JAB, that first goal vs Jamaica may have been part lucky but preventable.

  6. He just needs more seasoning, IMHO. He moves very well for a big man. I think he is the future for 2018; I’m not as sure about Alvarado. I don’t think European players appreciate how tough it is to play in CONCACAF until they do it. Witness Timmy Chandler.


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