Brooks Raises His Game; Williams Scores a Golazo
December 21, 2015
Brooks Finishes 2015 Strong
John Brooks has always had potential. Former U.S. U-20 head coach Thomas Rongen told me in 2010 that he uncovered someone really special in a 17-year-old Anthony Brooks (as he was called at the time) after his first-ever U.S. youth national team call-up that fall for a camp in Peru.
Brooks has progressed steadily over the past five years but many have wondered when he would finally take the next step and become a dominant Bundesliga central defender.
That time may well be now.
Brooks, 22, enters Germany’s winter break playing the best soccer of his career for Hertha Berlin, scoring a goal in a 2-0 win over Nurnberg in the German Cup and, on Sunday, starting and going the distance in a 2-0 win over Mainz.
“John Brooks over the last few weeks has become really consistent, and this is I think the biggest learning curve for him right now,” Jurgen Klinsmann said via U.S. Soccer's public relations site. “He’s still a very young player and he not only earned his spot back in the starting lineup at Hertha Berlin, but now he’s now really performing week in and week out on a very high level. I’ve been talking to his manager and his club over the last couple of weeks, and they are very impressed about his learning curve, about his focus, and hopefully [he] can keep that up. We are very proud that he’s doing well in Berlin right now.”
Brooks has long had a large frame but until recently that still didn’t mean he was dominant physically or in the air. But his goal against Nurnberg in the air was a perfect display of his improvement in that regard, and his passing out of the back remains a strong point; against Mainz he connected on 91% of his passes.
The Bundesliga now goes on break for nearly a month but Brooks will still be in the spotlight with contract negotiations at an apparently crucial point. Hertha reportedly wants a long-term deal done before the New Year but Brooks knows he could have options. Then again, with Hertha in third place in the Bundesliga and the Champions League thereby within its reach, would a move to a better club even be possible at the moment?
Luis Gil to Mexico?
Johnson returns, 'Gladbach rolls
Fabian Johnson has been the best American player at the club level in 2015 by a comfortable margin, and his value to fourth-place Borussia Monchengladbach can’t be overstated.
In the 12 Bundesliga games in which Johnson has played, Monchengladbach has won nine, lost once, and drawn twice, with a +15 goal differential. The club has lost all five of its games without him, meanwhile, with a goal differential of -11.
On Sunday Johnson played well yet again, and Monchengladbach rallied from a 1-0 deficit for a 3-2 win despite having been reduced to 10 players in the 38th minute.
Williams with another stunner
Danny Williams does not score often—but when he does, it’s usually a firecracker from distance.
On Sunday, the U.S. international posted his latest, scoring from outside the box in the 11th minute to give Reading a 1-0 win over Blackburn and end a four-game losing streak. It was the fourth goal of the season for the German-born Williams, 26, and moved Reading into 11th place in the Championship.
Young players have an off weekend
Aside from Brooks, it was a rough weekend in Europe for many of those eligible for U.S. youth national teams.
DeAndre Yedlin did not play for Sunderland in a 3-1 loss to Chelsea. Kenny Saief did not play for Belgian leaders KAA Gent in a 3-0 win over Kortrijk. Duane Holmes started for Huddersfield but was pulled at halftime of a 4-2 loss to Brendford. In France, Jordan Siebatcheu started for Stade de Reims but left after 53 minutes in a 2-0 loss to Bastia. In the Netherlands, Desevio Payne remained on the bench for Groningen in a 2-1 loss to Heracles. In Scotland, an injured Gedion Zelalem did not play for Rangers, which lost to Falkirk and now only clings to first place in the Scottish Championship on goal differential.
A pleasant surprise came on Saturday when 2015 U.S. U-20 World Cup captain Emerson Hyndman started for Fulham (along with Tim Ream) in a 2-2 draw with Bolton. The Dallas native was not spectacular, but he was nonetheless steady over his 90 minutes, connecting on 82% of his passes and at times brandishing his prodigious skill.
One small sliver of hope to keep an eye on is Caleb Stanko, who is gradually starting to see minutes for second-place 2.Bundesliga side SC Freiburg. On Saturday, Stanko played the final few minutes in a 2-0 win over 1860 Munich.
Bradley and Le Havre earn win
It was a tough assignment for Bob Bradley to take the job at Le Havre three months into the French season, but perhaps the club is buying into his system. On Friday Le Havre defeated Auxerre, 1-0, to remain in fourth place in Ligue 2. It is even on points with third-place Clermont for the final promotion spot, trailing by just two in goal differential.
Bradley has succeeded at just about everywhere he has coached. Now, just months after he secured a European spot for Stabaek, the Le Havre promotional race will be one to watch in the second half of the season.
Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.