What can John Brooks, healthy, in-form and in his prime, bring to USMNT?

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There is no more enigmatic a presence on the USMNT roster than John Brooks.

The towering, ball-spraying, aerially-threatening center back from Wolfsburg is 27 years old, just entering the prime of a career for a center back.

He has 38 caps for the United States and one of his three international goals is one of the more iconic markers in program history.

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The problem? Injuries have limited Brooks to just six caps since the summer of 2017, meaning USMNT fans have barely seen the 6-foot-4 center back since he left Hertha Berlin for Wolfsburg.

And Gregg Berhalter’s only been able to use the physical presence twice: a 1-0 win over Ecuador and a 4-1 defeat of Canada.

Brooks is the third-oldest player in USMNT camp now that Sebastian Lletget (28) has been called up to replace Josh Sargent. Only Tim Ream is older.

“Alongside Tim Ream he’s definitely very important,” said USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie. “I’ve had my experiences here (but) we’re so close to the ages of the kids coming in that it’s a little hard for them to look at us as an authority figure, someone to pay attention or listen to. So, Tim Ream and John Brooks, they are older than us. They have more experience and respect. We’re kind of a bridge.”

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USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter was asked Wednesday what Brooks brings to the team.

“John is as steady as they come in terms of his personality,” Berhalter said. “Our job is to let him play how he plays. He’s a physical, dominant player, a very good passer out of the back. The thing I like about John is when the level steps up, that’s where he can step up as well. He’s shown that he can adapt to the game.”

Letting him “play how he plays” means occasional forays high up the pitch and attempting a whole lot of long balls out of the back. Hopefully it means fewer of the high-risk plays that dogged his very early USMNT career.

Brooks brings interesting experience in that his national team appearances lie mostly outside of the dark times for U.S. Soccer, though perhaps his status as a Jurgen Klinsmann favorite finds him jammed right into the thick of them.

Brooks played every minute of the successful run to the Copa America Centenario semifinals in 2016. He’s also gone the distance in wins over the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, and Germany.

He played in just four Hex matches in the World Cup qualification nightmare of 2017: the 0-2 start against Mexico and Costa Rica, a 6-0 thumping of Honduras, and a 2-0 home win over Trinidad and Tobago.

Might he have made a difference in Couva, or the other qualifiers in which the Yanks went 1W-3D-2L without him? Is it going too far to say probably?

John Brooks
Robert Lewandowski asks Brooks why he has to be so tall or something (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

Brooks has played for five managers at Wolfsburg and current boss Oliver Glasner believes in him. Brooks has started 32 of 37 Bundesliga outings for Glasner since the Austrian was hired in 2019 and two of the five outliers happened immediately after his lone injury spell.

He’s healthy. He’s completing more long balls than all but 13 field players in the Bundesliga, and only Mats Hummels has pitched in more key passes amongst center backs than Brooks’ three (level with Dayot Upamecano, Dedryck Boyata, Marc Oliver Kempf).

Look: It all means nothing to USMNT fans if it leads to uneven performances in red, white, and blue. And those have certainly happened.

But the point is that this John Brooks may still be an adventurer but he’s also more than six years removed from the head-in-hands celebration after scoring against Ghana as a 21-year-old halftime sub for an injured Matt Besler.

He probably wouldn’t have bet on that being his only 45 minutes at a World Cup by the year 2020, but a healthy Brooks will be a big part of Berhalter’s men taking steps toward increasing that total come 2022 in Qatar.