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John Brooks Dreams of Making World Cup Roster

ASN Contributing Editor Brian Sciaretta sat down with John Brooks in Glasgow and talked about the German-American's decision to side with the U.S., and his dream of playing in the World Cup.

BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
November 15, 2013
10:17 AM
GLASGOW—Twenty-year-old defender John Brooks is one of the most interesting prospects in the United States player pool.

The tall, imposing Hertha Bertha player is the youngest player on the U.S. squad now in Glasgow and also one of the most promising young prospects for American soccer.

Brooks has been with Hertha Berlin since 2007 and last year was a stalwart in central defense for the club in a 2.Bundesliga campaign where it easily clinched promotion to Germany's top flight. Over the course of the 34-game season, Hertha's back line allowed just 28 goals—best in the league. In 40 league games as a professional, Brooks has yet to accumulate a single yellow card.

This season, Brooks' first in the Bundesliga, was always going to present a challenge to the Berlin native. An elbow injury sidelined him and stunted his progress, but he is now at 100% percent and should be able to compete for his starting role at Hertha Berlin once he returns from the international break.

In recent years, Hertha Berlin has bounced in and out of the Bundesliga but its fan support is strong and the club is ambitious. Despite being newly promoted, Hertha Berlin now sits in seventh in the Bundesliga and Books believes the adjustment to perhaps the strongest league in the world has gone well.

"The coach made it very good for me," Brooks told American Soccer Now. "It's a little bit faster and there are good players. I think we don't feel pressure. We just play for every game."

Now in Scotland, Brooks will be looking to earn his second cap for the United States after making his debut in August during a 4-3 win over Bosnia and Herzegovina. Brooks admits to being both surprised and bit nervous in that first appearance for the Yanks, but he is now in his third U.S. camp, and feels like he is settling in.

"They made it really easy for me," Brooks said of the U.S. team. "[Jugen Klinsmann] explained everything. From the first word to the last word was positive. All the people are nice and everyone talks to each other. Aron [Johannsson] is from Iceland and I'm from Germany. It's no problem."

Klinsmann believes that the decision Brooks is indicative of an approach he has regarding dual nationals to make them comfortable in his set up and give them a reason to eagerly choose to play for the United States without any pressure.

"For us, it's exciting to see young players go through European systems and different academies and then breaking through," Klinsmann said. "With dual-citizenship issues you always have a topic floating around of what country will they choose at the end of the day. We have an approach that it's totally up to the player and you got to make them as comfortable as possible. Hopefully they choose the United States one day."

"With [John] Brooks, there is a player we've followed for two-and-a-half years now very closely,"Klinsmann added. "We communicated with him all the time, and his family. We brought him in when we thought he was ready. But it's always in connection in talking with his coach, his family, and his club. Players now with that option realize that we're kind of improving in the United States. We're more ambitious. That attracts the interest of those players and in many cases they chose the United States over their other option."

One of the growing themes of the U.S. national team over the past four years has been the influx of German-American players who have spent little or no time in the United States growing up. Since 2010, Jermaine Jones, Timothy Chandler, Fabian Johnson, Danny Williams, David Yelldell, Terrence Boyd, and now Brooks have been capped by the Stars and Stripes.

Though German by birth, Brooks' American nationality has always been a significant part of his background. His father is from Illinois and was stationed in Germany when he served in the U.S. Army. Brooks is close with his father (who now lives in Switzerland) and traveled back to the United States to visit family during his youth.

Growing up in Berlin, Brooks was enrolled in the John F. Kennedy school for American children living in Germany. Until the sixth grade, he only spoke English in school and most of his childhood friends were American.

As Brooks grew older, he excelled at soccer and in 2007 he joined the Hertha Berlin setup and was a standout for its youth teams. He held both American and German passports and always felt attached to both countries, but deciding which country to represent was not an issue since neither federation reached out to him.

The turning point came in August 2010 when U.S. U-20 head coach Thomas Rongen reached out to Brooks and invited him to a tournament in Peru. The fact that the United States showed interest first influenced Brooks heavily, and Brooks credits Rongen for his decision to choose to play with the U.S.

"Yes it was important," Brooks said. "I always said the nation who called me up first is the nation who really wants me. Thomas Rongen talked a lot to me. We wrote emails. It was nice. I then talked to my mother and she said, 'Whatever you want. Do what's best for you. It's your choice.' I asked my dad and he said the same."

While Brooks enjoyed playing for the United States youth teams, his participation was spotty. He was not released by Hertha to play for the United States in its unsuccessful U-20 World Cup qualifying tournament in 2011. He played for the United States briefly in late 2011 but again was not released by Hertha for camps.

When Brooks did not play for the United States at the 2013 U-20 World Cup, it led to speculation that he was holding out for an opportunity to play with Germany, but Brooks calls that "nonsense." He said was tired after his first full professional season and he needed to rest for his first Bundesliga campaign.

In late 2012 and throughout early 2013 Brooks was called up several times by Germany's U-20 team, which conveniently played friendlies on FIFA international dates. For him, it was part of making an informed decision. In the end he enjoyed his times with U.S. more.

"I wanted to see the German version too because I'm half-German," he said. "It was OK because I know a lot of the German players in my age group. It was better with the U.S."

"It was warmer." When Brooks elected to play for the United States for the friendly against Bosnia, it was a unique situation because at the time Germany's U-21 team was also interested in him. For all the German-Americans on the U.S team, Brooks was the only one to have chosen to play for the U.S. with German interest on the table at the same time.

"For Hertha it would be better if I played with the German team, for traveling and status," Brooks said. But that "didn't weigh on my decision. It's my choice. I'm just focused on the United States."

The games against Scotland and Austria could go a long way toward showing Brooks' chances at making the United States 2014 World Cup team. Following these games, there will only be one more U.S. friendly on a FIFA international date before World Cup camp opens in May.

The American central defense depth chart is a bit crowded, with Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Clarence Goodson, Geoff Cameron, and Michael Orozco all having more international experience. That said, Brooks is the only American routinely playing central defense in an elite league. He knows it will be a difficult but achievable task to make the trip to Brazil.

"It'll be a challenge," Brooks said. "I'm young. I'm 20. It would be a dream if I could make it for the World Cup. I want to play every game now and it's up to the coach."

Would you like to see John Brooks make the 23-man World Cup roster? Think he has a chance? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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