John Brooks is the rock at the center of defense for the United States National Team. The center-back’s presence goes unnoticed as he stands 6-foot-4. That height is used to win just under 70 percent aerial duels this season — good for sixth-best among Bundesliga center-backs. It’s not just his talent in the air that should make him one of the first names on Gregg Berhalter’s teamsheet, but his ability to pass and dictate plays from the back.
John Brooks’ Passing
The passing numbers for Brooks in the Bundesliga this season don’t jump off the page. He has played just 16 out of 25 league matches, mostly due to a hamstring injury. In those matches, he has completed 81.6 percent of his passes, including 79.8 percent of passes over 25 yards. He has had 38 passes into the final third and 57 progressive passes, which ranks in the meaty part of the bell curve among Bundesliga defenders.
It is not his numbers in the league that will make the difference for the USA. It is his range of passing and the ability to pick out players in different parts of the field. Brooks lines up on the left side of the center-back pairing. His most popular partner in a back-four is Geoff Cameron with 10 partnerships. This allows him to spray passes with his left foot to different areas of the field. One of his better passes is to the right-back streaking down the opposite flank. In these two it is to DeAndre Yedlin.
These matches are three years apart and both passes are very similar. He allows the defense to shift and he waits for Yedlin to take the space on the other side of the field. Each time, that gap between the outside midfielder and the full-back is exposed.
Brooks can also pick out passes in the middle of the field. When he carries the ball in toward the left-back, space can open in the middle of the park. Brooks can pick out this pass. In this highlight, leads to a two-touch pass for a chance at a cross.
In that clip, it is again a full-back filling space because this pass dragged the defender toward the middle of the field. Antonee Robinson sees the opening here.
Brooks can find players with passes toward the left side of the field. This pass to Jorge Villafaña splits three defenders and finds his full-back in plenty of space to make a cross.
This pass to Gyasi Zardis on the left flank gives the winger a chance to attack. Opening basically a 2v2 scenario.
Leading the Attack
Not only does he have a decent array of passes, but Brooks isn’t afraid to run past forward to start an attack on his own. He has scored three senior national team goals and this one sticks out as his best — based on skill and not the moment. Brooks makes the tackle and start the odd-man break. He plays the simple pass into Michael Bradley’s feet once the pressure comes. He continues his run and is in the right spot for the Yedlin cross.
This move puts Jozy Altidore in a chance to drive at the center backs in front of him with options on either side.
This article was published in December 2018, right around when USMNT manager Gregg Berhalter was hire. Berhalter saw Brooks play for Wolfsburg. He said, “[Brooks] was active, he was winning balls and he was dominant as a center-back. He had some good moments of very quick passing, breaking lines, very firm balls on the ground, very accurate passes.”
Berhalter wants to develop play out of the back. Using different spells of possession to lure opponents out of positions before exploiting with quick, line-breaking passes. Brooks can be a big help in that. He has an incredible ability to win balls in the air and break up play. He can also pick passes based on what the defense is presenting. One or two of his passes could be the difference in results. He can release the opposite side full-back into a dangerous area for a cross. Additionally, he can find central midfielders checking into space.
Modern football needs central defenders to keep the ball and complete accurate passes. Brooks is the sort of commanding presence needed to help the USA win matches. He wins headers and tackles, but also keeps the ball under pressure and can pick passes to start the attack.
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