Thoughts on John Brooks, Jozy Altidore and others ahead of U.S. – Austria on Tuesday

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  • Hoping for a John Brooks sighting

We know what Omar Gonzalez is all about as an international center back.

And by now, we also know Geoff Cameron’s ups and down at that spot.

But what about John Brooks? Do we know? Can he hold his own? Or was that promising Sarajevo evening back in the August friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina more about youthful naiveté, that odd condition of not quite being old and wise enough to know that you are supposed to be nervous?

Either way, the 20-year-old Hertha Berlin center back and recent U.S. debutante certainly shows a lot of promise. Which is what I’d love to see him in Tuesday’s lineup against Austria.

The Cameron-Omar Gonzalez duo looked OK against Scotland’s strikers; not great and not bad. Just OK. Which is probably about what we would have expected.

(MORE: ProSoccerTalk’s U.S.-Austria preview)

Again, we know what both of those guys are about. Not so much with Brooks (pictured above), who certainly has all the physical tools.

But can he solve problems? Can he adjust during the match? Can he bounce back from a shaky moment? These are the questions that Klinsmann is also asking.

Oh, and this one, too: Can he do all this better than Michael Orozco, the man Brooks will probably need to beat out for that roster spot in Brazil?

By the way, Austria’s Bundesliga-heavy team will pose a test. But none of the men Brooks (or whichever U.S. center backs line up against Tuesday at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion (2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN) won’t be named Edin Džeko, the strong and skillful Bosnian and Manchester City striker. Brooks mostly dealt well with Dzeko that day, which made for a very promising start.

  • Who else needs a big night?

We talked about Sacha Kljestan earlier. Kljestan has always seemed at ease about this stuff, equipped with the understanding that every player has to go out, do the very best he can and not worry about it from there. The choices are out of his hands and feet.

So I’d love to see the Anderlecht fixture assigned a more familiar role Tuesday for the United States, a position where he can potentially excel rather than one where he’s figuring things out on the fly. Either way, a big night in Vienna will surely help his cause – and might even be the last test, the one he absolutely must pass.

(MORE: Klinsmann’s thoughts on Kljestan against Scotland)

Brek Shea may only be getting chances (even though he’s not playing a bit for Stoke City) because the United States has pretty much zilch in terms of wide play right now – but the fact is, he’s getting chances. That’s a bottom line bonanza, any way you look at it.

It’s on Shea to exploit this golden goose of an ongoing opportunity. It seems quite possible that he’ll get just 25-or-so minutes once again, which has been a familiar MO under Klinsmann. Make it happen, kid. A few more big. bold, fearless dashes down the left and, well, that seat on the plane into Brazil will pull firmly into view.

Eric Lichaj, like so many others, may have played in cautiously at right back on Friday. But he’s not like a lot of others, whose spots in Brazil are more or less secure. He cannot just hold serve. Klinsmann already has guys who can play defense along the right. Lichaj is getting an opportunity in this short camps because the U.S. manager needs someone who can play defense and go add some pressure up the right flank on the attack.

  • Jozy Altidore’s big year

U.S. first-choice striker Jozy Altidore has had such a fabulous year in the national team shirt, with eight goals in 2013, including four in World Cup Qualifiers. He established that team record by scoring in five-consecutive games, a remarkable feat in international soccer. Plus, Altidore had a memorable hat trick against a good team from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

But around all that, Sunderland happened.

So what a great place this would be for Altidore to add a little sunshine into his soccer days. Things may slowly improve at Sunderland … but realistically there are still tough times ahead around the Stadium of Light. Here’s hoping Altidore puts away a couple of the chances that may come his way Tuesday.

(MORE: Why were we surprised at U.S.-Scotland on Friday?)

Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery, scores in England win

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Jermain Defoe’s friendship with terminally-ill Bradley Lowery has been special to watch unfold, and the Sunderland striker brought his little buddy to Wembley today.

Then he notched a match-winner.

Lowery walked Defoe out onto the field in a replica England kit before Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania, and then Defoe scored his 20th goal for country.

[ MORE: Under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

It was his first since 2013, the last year Defoe was called up for the Three Lions.

Here’s the goal, which was followed by a second-half Jamie Vardy tally as England stayed atop Group F with a 2-0 win over Lithuania.

Two Russian soccer fans stabbed in Serbia

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) Two Russian fans have been hospitalized with serious injuries after being stabbed following a friendly soccer match between Red Star Belgrade and Lokomotiv Moscow.

Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said Sunday police were looking for the knife-wielding perpetrators who attacked a group of Lokomotiv fans in downtown Belgrade late Saturday.

Serbian media reports said the Russian fans were attacked by supporters of Red Star’s rival Partizan Belgrade.

[ MORE: Under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

The match, which Red Star won 2-1, was meant to promote Serbia’s traditional friendship with Russia.

Stefanovic says “nobody should think they could hurt the Serbian-Russian friendship” with such attacks.

Serbia has seen a surge of fan violence inside and outside stadiums. In 2009, a French football fan was fatally beaten in Belgrade.

VIDEO: Gerrard’s juggle and finish leads Liverpool legends past Real Madrid

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Scoring at Anfield doesn’t get old, especially when your name is Steven Gerrard.

The English midfielder was playing in a friendly match between Liverpool and Real Madrid “legends” on Sunday, when he delivered this tasty goal (and assists to Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, and John Aldridge).

[ MORE: Under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

Gerrard redirects a cross over a lunging defender and into a place where he can lash a goal home to put the Reds up 4-0. He dedicated his Man of the Match performance to club legend Ronnie Moran, who died earlier this week.

Real’s comeback came up just short in a 4-3 final, with Fernando Morientes, Ruben de la Red, and Edwin Congo scoring for the visitors.

On a Sunday waiting for the international matches to begin, Gerrard supplies a nice highlight for the rest of us (Extended highlights free on Liverpool’s site).

Ozil bristles at talk of Arsenal selling him

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Mesut Ozil is on international break, and bristling at reports that Arsenal is going to sell him.

The midfielder’s absence from the lineup last week had plenty speculating on his future, even more than usual. His contract expires in 2018, and several reports claimed he’d join Alexis Sanchez as players destined for elsewhere.

[ MORE: Under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

Ozil was not called up by Germany, and has missed four of his last nine Premier League matches. Three of those were for illness, and he missed last week’s loss to West Brom with a hamstring injury.

From Metro:

“And you think Wenger tells the journalist before he tells me? Then I know him differently,” Ozil told German outlet Welt.

“I have a contract until 2018 in London and I feel very comfortable there. We’ll talk soon and then make a decision.”

Metro notes that Ozil also said he wants to win the Champions League, something that can only happen with Arsenal remaining in the Top Four. We suppose you could make snarky inferences from his “comfortable in London” phrasing, but we’ll leave it there.