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On USMNT: Why the John Brooks omission isn’t about form, but about fit

The moment the word “form” came out of Gregg Berhalter’s mouth regarding his decision to omit John Brooks from the U.S. men’s national team’s roster for November’s World Cup qualifiers, he had to know that choice of words would be picked apart like vultures on roadkill.

And why shouldn’t it? Brooks had just come off a strong outing in UEFA Champions League, his second straight solid outing and fifth straight start, and one of the players chosen ahead of him was Mark McKenzie, who had managed to play in just one of his club team’s past five matches.

Berhalter did emphasize that it was his form with the national team, which also felt like a bit of a stretch given the fact his struggles took place back in September. Two months had gone by since Brooks had rough outings against Canada and Honduras, and yet there were players who had poor October windows who were right back with the team for November.

Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

Berhalter’s decision to leave Brooks in Germany doesn’t seem to be about form, not specifically, but rather about a combination of Berhalter looking at a certain way he wants to approach the November qualifiers against Mexico and Jamaica, and the reality that his confidence in Brooks’ ability to be a good fit in that approach has been shaken.

You could find clues to support this idea in Berhalter’s own comments about the centerbacks he did call in.

On Mark McKenzie, Berhalter said:

Mark has had World Cup qualifying experience, playing in a couple of these games. And for him, it’s a question of, he has that athleticism, he has the ability to cover the backline is a very good one v one defender, and we feel if we’re going to be pressing high, he’s a good player to give us cover in this camp.

On Walker ZImmerman, Berhalter said:

It’s important that our whole backline is aggressive, is able to move forward, is able to condense the field, is able to build out a back. We put a lot of pressure on our backline to look to be good both defensively and offensively. Walker has certainly shown that he can play  that role.

Pressing high with centerbacks to condense the field isn’t some new idea, but Berhalter surely took note of the success Canada had with pressuring Mexico in their 1-1 draw at Estadio Azteca in October. The Canadians were proactive, and pushed numbers forward, looking to press Mexico when they could, at least until they began to inevitably tire in the Mexico City altitude midway through the second half.

There was still something for Berhalter to consider. You wouldn’t blame him for seeing similarities between the USMNT and Canada, and playing a high line against Mexico could work if he deployed the type of defenders with the speed, athleticism and poise needed to pull it off.

This brings us to Brooks, who was repeatedly exposed in space against Canada and Honduras in September. Brooks has always been a bit slow on the turn, but his tentativeness in September was clear to see, and it led to several bad moments that surely stuck in Berhalter’s memory when he eventually started thinking about how to best deal with Mexico’s full-strength attack (as well as a Jamaica attack with Mikhail Antonio and Leon Bailey).

In fairness to Berhalter, Brooks did hit a poor run of form that extended beyond his September struggles in qualifying. He went back to Wolfsburg after those matches and struggled to play at a high level. Those woes coincided with a poor run of results for Wolfsburg, which led to the firing of Mark Van Bommel.

Things have started to turn around for Brooks at Wolfsburg with the arrival of new manager Florian Kohfeldt, who has helped guide the club to a run of three consecutive wins, with Brooks playing his best soccer since August.

Adding more support to theory that Brooks’ omission isn’t about form is the absence of Tim Ream from the November squad. Ream is in very good club form for Fulham, and played well in his last USMNT start, in the September draw against El Salvador. So if it were about form and not about tactical fit then Ream should have gotten the nod over McKenzie, but it’s pretty clear Ream’s lack of quickness mattered more than McKenzie’s lack of recent club playing time.

A Miles Robinson-Chris Richards tandem could be perfect for the assignment of trying to press high against El Tri. They are both fast, strong and good with the ball, and both are good 1-v-1 defenders who can handle themselves in space (Robinson has put on a masterclass in defending in space in recent months). Walker Zimmerman isn’t as quick as Richards and Robinson, but he’s quicker than Brooks and showed well in October’s qualifiers, playing with a confidence that had to impress Berhalter.

Does this mean Brooks’ time with the USMNT is over? Not necessarily, but if a Richards-Robinson or Robinson-Zimmerman tandem shines against Mexico, and Berhalter’s plan to try and press opponents more winds up producing four or six points in November’s qualifiers, then Brooks will find himself facing a real challenge to regain his starting spot.

Don’t go counting him out though. Brooks is still very much a high-level defender, and as much as Berhalter’s Brooks omission might be motivated more by tactical fit than by player form, Brooks could force Berhalter’s hand by maintaining consistently high level of play for Wolfsburg, like we saw from him last season.

THAT John Brooks will be very hard to keep off the USMNT roster.


  1. Ives man, $3-8/month is steep. ALL OF NETFLIX is only $11. ALL OF DISNEY is like $9.

    Like maybe start at $1? I could see that then if the value is there, raise the price next year… add some tiers later.

    • Y’all don’t get it. Site/hosting costs went up. It’s a time vs return equation otherwise just sell the site or just shut it down. I’m IN and all us OGs should be, if y’all don’t sign up we all lose so pay your $3 you stingy sob and join the club.

  2. Ives,
    I don’t know how to feel about this……hahahaha. My initial reaction was like “there goes another sudden subscription” to try and squeeze money out of us after the site being absolutely free for so long….bbuuutttt then after a day or two, with nerves settling, I’ve come to accept the fact that we all grace this site for its great content and the ability to have awesome dialog with other enthusiasts that love the GREAT GAME. With the amount of people visiting this site DAILY for accurate, up-to-date, real time info on events, coming up, happening in our league and from around the world, $0.1 a day all of a sudden doesn’t seem like much…..for the time, research, compiling effort and upkeeping it takes to bring us this awesome content. “Quality is never free”

    hmmmm……Still on the fence but lets see 🙃

    • Bizzy… is it $.1/day? Or is it the cost of a Netflix subscription (Basic at $8.99) – where I get, I dunno, access to millions of movies and hit TV streaming. Hell, I get the WSJ for less than the bottom tier. This is a very rich price to me – though I would sign up at some price… I just don’t know if $3-8/month is where it’s at.

      And I love Ives. I’ve been coming here for years. I know why he is doing it. I respect it, and I’ll pay. I’m just not shelling out that much. I literally asked myself, “if push came to shove, would I give up Netflix or WSJ for SBI?” Answer, no. Would I give up $1/month? $3/month for the high tier? Yeah.

      I just chose between NYT and WSJ subscriptions… I am choosing between Lexis and Bloomberg subscriptions… now Ives with $8/month… Hell, maybe I’ll get rid of the ESPN+ subscription to find space for this… that is about $7/month. Not working with the VPN anyway. Choices Choices.

    • Appreciate the feedback Bizzy, and I do hope you stick around as someone who has been around here for years.

      I know it’s going to be a shock to the system for some people, but I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think it was the only way we survive as a site. The challenge for us will be to make this a site American soccer fans see as good value for the price, with a menu and concentration of coverage they won’t find other places.

      We are also going to keep providing free content that doesn’t require a subscription for those folks who aren’t ready or able to subscribe.

      • Hey Ives! Have always and still love the content, so I didn’t mind at all shelling out $5.00/month for most the content offered. However, for some reason I still can’t view the article about who should start, will start vs Mexico, any suggestions?

      • Ronnie, we were able to identify the problem and it should be resolved now and you should see all the content available for your subscription. Apologies for the issues and thank you for keeping me informed on what was going on.

  3. Ives,
    It wold be good if the article banners said which tier it was in. That would avoid clicking on an article only to be unable to read it.

  4. Ives,
    It would be good if the articles indicted which tier they were in on the picture. That would help avoid clicking on an article only to not be able to see it.

    • Brian, SBI will still have a good amount of free content, but we’re going to have some of our leading content included in the subscription setup. If you don’t want to subscribe that’s your choice, but there will continue to be quality content for people who don’t want to subscribe.

  5. Content has always been good on SBI but I won’t pay the price. Already have to pay for too many subscriptions. Just go to some of the other US soccer blogs.

    • Understandable Jesse, and I get that these days there are plenty of subscriptions to handle. All that said, we’ll continue to have non-subscription content that will be free to read. And yes, you can go to some other U.S. soccer blogs, but we’ll keep working to make SBI one of the best available, and maybe one day we’ll be a site you decide to add to your list of subscriptions.

  6. Great take and I’m beginning to see how Berhalter likes his team to play. It’s possible guys like Brooks, Pefok, Daryl others who might be playing well but not what he’s looking for to be left off qualifying rosters or even (if we qualify) the eventual World Cup roster. So I think this is potentially huge. Points to depth of the team but raises a lot of questions.

    • We shall see my friend. The fact is the display ad model is dying a slow but inevitable death, and the choices are either to bleed out over time, or work to build something that people value enough to pay for. It’s a challenge we are ready to take on, and the reality is this is a move we should have made a while ago. Now it’s up to us to make it work.

  7. I bought a subscription to the website but when I click on the article it just says click here to subscribe. How do I sign to the site after paying the subscription. I’m I just not seeing the click here to log in area.

    • Never mind I scrolled down far enough to see where it said log in. Plus the first article I clicked on must be at the highest level and I’m signed up for the middle level. My apologies for not paying close enough attention to what I’m doing.


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