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Berhalter on John Brooks’ USMNT absences: “He needs to fit our game model”


It has been 10 months since veteran defender John Brooks has represented the U.S. men’s national team and although his leadership on the field is important to have, head coach Gregg Berhalter didn’t mince words on Brooks’ absences throughout Concacaf World Cup Qualifying.

Berhalter admitted that Brooks lacked some of the necessities needed to feature in the current USMNT squad, with the 29-year-old eventually left out of five of six qualifying windows. Brooks also did not feature in a four-match window this past June, with two of those matches coming in Concacaf Nations League action.

Despite Brooks having more caps than majority of the other centerbacks in the current USMNT player pool, Berhalter voiced his opinions on why the longtime Bundesliga player has been out of international action.

“I called [Brooks] before the November camp, and I said, ‘John, listen, here are some things that are lacking in your game, that I don’t see fit our game model, and that we need to address,” Berhalter said in an interview on ESPN FC’s Futbol Americas.

“We want to play with a very high line, right,” Berhalter added. “So ideally, if he went into a team that plays with a high line, and we can see that every week, how he’s dealing with space behind him, it would really help us get a picture of what he can do for our team. So, he hadn’t been doing that with Wolfsburg.”

Brad Smith/ISI Photos

Brooks logged 36 combined appearances for Wolfsburg last season, excelling during the final weeks of the league season to help the Bundesliga club avoid any relegation worries. Brooks helped Wolfsburg register six clean sheets during the second half of the season, while also playing key roles in victories over Eintracht Frankfurt, Union Berlin, and Mainz.

Walker Zimmerman and Miles Robinson anchored the USMNT backline throughout qualifying in Brooks’ absence, while Chris Richards also appeared on the field prior to his ankle injury in February. Cameron Carter-Vickers and Erik Palmer-Brown also boosted their stock ahead of World Cup involvement later this year after delivering strong performances at club level throughout 2022.

With Berhalter already knowing what Brooks can bring to the squad, the head coach decided to give other players their opportunity.

“We go into these games in the summer where we wanted to take a look at a guy like Cameron Carter-Vickers,” Berhalter said. “We wanted to take a look at a guy like Erik Palmer-Brown because John has the body of work that we’ve seen.”

Brooks remains a free agent this summer following the expiration of his Wolfsburg contract earlier this May. There has been no timetable on when or who Brooks will sign with next, but a decision will likely need to be made soon with European seasons set to kick off in the coming weeks in England, Germany, Spain, Italy, and France.

Berhalter hasn’t ruled Brooks out of future involvement with the USMNT and believes the evolution of the centerback will continue following his move to a new club.

“To me, it’s a question of: Let’s see where John ends up,” Berhalter said. “Let’s see what club he ends up at and let’s see how his form is throughout the fall. And then we can evaluate.”


  1. could still get selected, injuries, sickness, etc

    long way to go until the World Cup

    I don’t think it’s ego at all, unlike Klinsman snubbing Landon, who had just won the golden boot at the Gold Cup. And now I see klinsman has opened his self-serving mouth again to say how he feels about the situation…because he cares sooooooo much about the USMNT, and other human beings…LOL

    Klinsman is an ego maniac, should run for office. He certainly can’t find a job coaching soccer because he sucks at it, and the world knows it

  2. JR, absolutely no inside information but I suspect GGG was disappointed in what he perceived as a lack of effort from Wright, not the outcome of his performance. Wright re-signing in Turkey seems like an acknowlegment on his part that his opportunity for Qatar has passed. Whereas Giochinco and Moore moving to MLS looks like moves to get to a league where their club performances could earn them a spot as opposed to French and Spanish 2nd divisions. I would say Bello probably out of the running playing in German 2nd Division as well.

    • It was still strange that the “fuse” was that short. Gregg usually goes out of his way to not throw guys under the bus. It took him 10 months to finally say Brooks stinks at playing a high line. He only spoke in vague generalities about guys that under performed in the Panama road lost and didn’t single out anyone by name (but Lleget hasn’t seen the field since).

  3. He’s saying what we all knew a year ago, yeah? He’d be a good option off the bench because the reality is- there are teams at a level where we’re realistically to going to be spending much time playing a high line. But… some players can’t settle into being a role player gracefully.

    If we’re going to maximize our potential and make any kind of a run this cycle- we’re really going to need Richards to stay healthy and continue to improve as our backline in GB’s system really needs his skillset.

    • Hey Rico – I dont think tjere ate any teams at the WC US could face where playing a high line wouldn’t be disastrous.

      • I figure we will press/high line against Iran and Wales. And honestly, you could make an argument that is as good a way to go at England as just sitting back and letting them dictate. Probably we end up sitting back more against England because their attacking talent will be pinning us in our own end a fair amount. I don’t think the Uruguay game was a total fail. We were exposed for sure, but in the end we didn’t concede, great learning experience. Hopefully we have healthy McKennie and Reyna, in form Adams, etc.

      • From what little I know, Iran is a team that likes to stay compact and counter- so we could spend quite a bit of time with a high line there. But yeah- meant to say not going to spend as much time with a high line at WC.

  4. I am no fan of Berhalter, but I have to say that the kind of humiliating defensive breakdowns that used to plague us in the 90s and 2000s don’t really happen anymore. Given that he was a defender himself I guess this is the part of the game he gets right, and he’s made it work with a lot of different players back there. So I can’t argue with this.
    It still smells like ego though. And the bounce passes have to stop.

  5. As always it comes down to the age old conundrum for national team coaches: do I take the best players the country has and try to design a system around them, or do I take my preferred system and try to fit round pegs into square holes. Both systems can succeed, and both can fall spectacularly, and the coach is always going to be judged on the results whatever his approach. All I’ll say about Berhalter, who is a proponent of finding players to fit his system, is that I think it’s more suited to a club manager who can go out and purchase whatever player he needs for a position. He can’t do that with a national team. If he doesn’t have the centerbacks to support a high line, he can’t go buy one. Time and results will tell, but I still feel uncomfortable about leaving a quality player like Brooks off the squad. Just one man’s humble opinion, of course.

    • I think it’s more do you want to set the team up around John Brooks or around the young midfielders and wingers. Do we want to sit back and protect JB and then use him to try to break down defenses with his line breaking passes or do you want to force turnovers and allow our young guns to operate in the chaos created by high pressing. Much like Wright or Pefok, Brooks would have fit right in on the national teams Berhalter played for, but they perhaps don’t fit now. Even pre-pandemic when we were playing more a mid-block and using Bradley/Trapp/Yueill to break down defenses Brooks fit with his long diagnals.

    • Agreed. If memory serves right, only he and DeAndre Yedlin would have any World Cup experience in the entire group. This sounds like playing for ‘26 to me. I find it unconscionable.

  6. At least he’s finally being honest. He’s right – Brooks is excellent in a team that defends sitting back, where he can use his size and positioning to dominate inquests into the 18. But in a high line, pressing high up the pitch, Brooks isn’t well-suited.

    Anyone can look at Harry McGwire. He was excellent for Leicester in back line that stayed at home, as well as for England. But United was playing him and the back line high up the pitch, exposing him as static and slow, which resulted in a lot of embarrassment for the player.

    That said, do I think Brooks should be a bench player on the USMNT to bring vital experience and, if need be, do an awesome job protecting a lead or coming in when the team is forced to defend further back in their own half? Absolutely. His distribution is also very good compared to most CBs in the pool. I think it’s foolish to leave him out entirely if that’s what Berhalter ends up doing.

    • Gave well said. Klinsmann snubbed Landon in ‘14 when he clearly carried more value than the left footed free kick specialist from Houston( can’t remember his name nor do I want to). Brooks should be a late defensive sub to see out games.

      • Brad Davis was his name … AND this is a moot point if Wondo-lousy scores a 4 ft tap in.

        Yes, Brooks should be in the squad to see out games, Especially when teams will be lumping in crosses while we’re defending a lead in the last 15 minutes. And as I said up there, he is the only other person (beyond Yedlin) who even knows with the World Cup is like. That is an incredible asset that it looks like we’re about to just flush down the toilet.

        Aye caramba

  7. I feel for Brooks, because he is a good player, and has some really valuable experience that could help a young team. But I agree with quozzel comment below, he doesn’t fit the way the USMNT plays at the moment. But that said, he seems like a perfect fit for a backup role, especially with the M Robinson injury, and the lackluster showing of EPB. Zimmerman, Long, Richards (assuming return from injury) ahead of him, so battling with CCV and EPB for the 4th spot…CCV looked more the part but are either of those two great at the high line? Not so sure.

  8. Paul Arriola and Jesus Ferreira – FC Dallas
    Brenden Aaronson and Tyler Adams – Leeds United
    Jordan Morris and Christin Roldan – Seattle Sounders
    Yunus Musah – Valencia (Valencia strongly after Tim Weah as of June 15)

    Now Shaq Moore to Nashville SC with Walker Zimmerman

  9. “So ideally, if he went into a team that plays with a high line, and we can see that every week, how he’s dealing with space behind him, it would really help us get a picture of what he can do for our team.”

    WHAT?? So players have to switch to teams that play the same STYLE as the USMNT to be included in the squad??? A good defender is a good defender and adapts to different formation changes. Not every player on the USMNT plays in the exact same way for their club as they do for the national team…….What??? like Brooks can’t be coached into playing in a highline defense??? I don’t get that comment.

    I guess that’s why I’m not coach of the USMNT……hahahaha

    • Bizzy, I agree that it is ridiculous to tell a player he has to play for a club team that plays his style. I think the part that was left out was that he has shown repeatedly that he can’t play well in a high line and he isn’t going to get any more opportunities to show he can with the US. I am not sure I agree with you that he can be taught because I think it is athletic limitations, not tactical. However, assuming he finds a team, I still think he will be in Qatar because I think GGG figured out against Uruguay that he is not going to be able to play that way in Qatar. My glass is half full …

    • Biggest problem I have with the statements that Gregg made is that he’s putting all his eggs in 1 basket (so to speak). He setting the team up to play in a single formation/style and therefore wants players that all play the exact same way. If I were one of the coaches for our Group opponents I’d be chomping at the bit knowing that Gregg isn’t going spring any surprises on them, and there’s ample tape of how to disrupt Gregg’s tactics.
      2002 was our most successful WC in modern times and during that tournament Bruce changed formation/tactics a couple times to get the matchups he wanted and/or to count for injuries. Or primary formation was the 4-4-2, but we successfully transitioned/used a 5-3-2 frustrate opponents and give us some of our signature wins/performances.

  10. Berhalter just needs to learn to plead the 5th and stop bashing players to the press. He did the same thing to Haji Wright against El Salvador this past window. He is looking very Thomas Rongenish, like when Thomas called out and bashed Subotic and we payed for it by him switching countries. . -____-

    • In this case I actually think he’s doing Brooks a favor because it says that he doesn’t have a problem with Brooks personally but is saying – which a lot of us believed anyhow – that Brooks doesn’t fit his high-pressing man-marking system.

      Brooks has some really, really good attributes. He’s a beast in the air, his passing distribution out of the back is the best in our pool, and his longball distribution is a thing of beauty, better than Michael Bradley’s was, better than Zimmerman’s is now (and Zimmerman can drop a nice ball over the top.) Brooks is a menace in the box on set pieces, and oh, yeah, he’s actually pretty good on the ball and will take space if you give it to him and keep right on rumbling and even 1-2 his way into the box if you don’t stop his roll.

      What he doesn’t do well is man-mark, he loses his guy in space, and he’s too easily turned and burned and lacks recovery speed once he gets beaten. He does better playing a lower line in a zone-marking system, and especially in a 3-man backline. As part of a CB duo in a 4-man backline, especially one that presses high, he can be a liability, even against CONCACAF-level opposition.

      I do understand why Gregg moved on from him. Brooks is a good player, but he doesn’t really fit what Gregg does. Alan Sonora of Independiente is another guy like that – extremely skilled and with attributes I wish we had in the pool..,but who doesn’t fit what Gregg does because he’s a defensive liability, he wanders all over the park, and he won’t press. A really good player…but not a guy for a pressing 4-3-3.

      • Sonora was suppose to be called up for Bosnia in Jan camp, but his club team would not release him.

    • He did plead the fifth like 50 times, but when you’re asked every press conference and interview for 9 months at some point you’ve just got to say “I don’t think he’s good enough at what we want our CBs to do.”
      Still a little perplexed by the Wright comments. It was very out of the norm for Gregg.

      • JR, absolutely no inside information but I suspect GGG was disappointed in what he perceived as a lack of effort from Wright, not the outcome of his performance. Wright re-signing in Turkey seems like an acknowlegment on his part that his opportunity for Qatar has passed. Whereas Giochinco and Moore moving to MLS looks like moves to get to a league where their club performances could earn them a spot as opposed to French and Spanish 2nd divisions. I would say Bello probably out of the running playing in German 2nd Division as well.

      • He didnt though, look at Futbol Americas with Herc and Seb that was back in Jan 2022. Berhalter volunteered the info that JAB does not have good form/inconsistent and didn’t fit the system.

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