'We are looking forward' - John Brooks says U.S. are past World Cup disappointment
WOLFSBURG, Germany -- When right-back William swings in one last cross, only seconds are remaining on the clock as Wolfsburg are down 2-1 at home to Hertha Berlin on September 15. In the box, defender John Brooks rises higher than two Berlin players, gets to the ball with his head and finds Admir Mehmedi on the edge of the penalty area. The Switzerland international gets his foot onto it and fires home, securing the hosts a deserved 2-2 draw.
Minutes later, the 25-year-old Brooks stands close to the away end and applauds the Hertha fans, who are far from happy to see their former player. They look at the United States international but they do not applaud, offering swear words in his direction instead.
"It's just the fans who take it serious with their club. I don't even think they are mad but rather sad that I left. My goodbye that day was a bit 'ironic.' I wanted to tell them 'I am still here' and that I still like the club and that I am still from Berlin," Brooks tells ESPN.
But having come through the ranks of Hertha's youth academy Brooks, once hailed as the club's future captain, left for Wolfsburg in 2017, becoming the most expensive U.S. player to date when securing Berlin around €20 million. Following a first campaign marred by injuries, Brooks has been a key player in Wolfsburg's defense ever since the successful relegation/promotion playoffs in May.
"I am healthy now," Brooks says. "I feel comfortable with my body. You can also see that on the pitch. I feel good. I am glad now.
"I listen better to my body when it comes to rest time, recovery time and everything. I know my body a little bit better now. If I feel something, I try to fight against it early so it doesn't really break out."
Brooks' experience (106 Bundesliga games), along with his commanding presence at both ends and his long passing game, will be needed this season at Wolfsburg. It will also be vital for the U.S. national team, whom he's represented 34 times.
After missing much of 2017 for the U.S. national team -- including the October loss to Trinidad & Tobago that eliminated the U.S. in World Cup qualifying -- Brooks returned for the following month's friendly vs. Portugal. After another lengthy lay-off, he returned for the Brazil match last September. His return had been much-anticipated as the regrouping process continues and he believes he's ready to step up and take on more responsibility when needed.
"I am still not loud," he says. "I am the quiet type. But when I think that I have to say something than I speak up. It's still the same. Also in the national team, everybody knows me like that. I am not going forward all the time. I listen a lot, and if I have to say something, I do that. That's just my character."
When the U.S. national team convenes this week, only Brooks and Greuther Furth's Julian Green will still be around from the larger contingency of German-Americans that former head coach Jurgen Klinsmann relied on during his tenure.
"It's just me and Julian now. I've been a national team player since 2013. A lot of guys are still there. It's not a problem for me. I am still comfortable. It's always good to see the guys." Brooks says.
Jermaine Jones, who debuted under Bob Bradley, earned the last of his 69 caps in March 2017, Fabian Johnson's time with the U.S. team is slowly coming to an end and Frankfurt's Timothy Chandler has been plagued by injuries.
There are other players in Germany, like Darmstadt's Terrence Boyd or Dusseldorf midfielder Alfredo Morales, who are on the fringes of the U.S. national team. Interim coach Dave Sarachan only relies on Brooks and Green from that group but there's still a large American community in German football: Josh Sargent, Weston McKennie, Christian Pulisic and Bobby Wood all made it to Europe as teenagers and are very much part of the U.S. core Brooks believes can overcome the shock of the Trinidad and Tobago defeat in 2017.
Injured at the time and unable to slot into central defense for those crucial qualifiers, Brooks said he never saw it coming.
"Honestly," he says. "I didn't even watch the Trinidad game because I felt comfortable. I watched the Panama game [a 4-0 win at the Orlando City Stadium on Oct. 7, 2017]. That was a do-or-die game. And we won it 4-0. I was like 'Ok, the guys know it's serious, and they got it.' I woke up with messages on the phone telling me 'I am sorry for you' and I thought 'what's going on?' I checked the result and I couldn't believe it."
"But that's over now. We are looking forward. I think we have a good group now. In our last camp, we had a lot of fun. We have good guys, young guys, hungry guys."
Born in Berlin to an American father and a German mother, Brooks was not prepared to wait for an invitation to the Germany team, even more so because he felt welcome when the U.S. invited him to play a U-20 tournament in Peru back in 2010.
"I always said that I wanted to play for the team that called me up first. The first was the U.S. under 20," Brooks says. "Everybody cared about me and looked out for me, making sure I was comfortable. It was what I wanted. Then I experienced Germany. It was a different type. It was also nice, but not as warm."