Unbridled joy swept through the black-clad visitors at full time. A robust section in the far corner of the ground leapt and sang in unison to laud Hertha Berlin for the 1-0 victory at Hamburger SV on Friday night. Players jumped from the bench and surged onto the field to reinforce the meaning of collecting maximum points against a relegation rival.
As he did for most of the evening, John Anthony Brooks found himself right in the middle of it. He celebrated the feat with the relish it deserved. He located his nearest teammate and threw his sizeable frame straight onto his back. He slipped back to the ground, soaked in the moment with his teammates near the halfway line and walked over to those fervent supporters to share in the moment with them.
“It was a great performance,” Brooks said moments after coming off the field at Imtech Arena. “It was a good game for us with three very important points. [It was a] good night.”
It showed in the way the 22-year-old defender proceeded through the occasion. Brooks found himself under scrutiny from the opening whistle against a home side desperate to avoid slipping into the drop zone. HSV opened brightly and tested Hertha with its application and its vigor.
Brooks approached the assignment with the confidence and the maturity acquired through the travails of his past few years. He did not let the importance of the affair disrupt his approach to it. He directed his teammates and glided from spot to spot to put out fire after fire to prevent the uninventive home side from cracking through. He selected the safe option in distribution, often looking long and over the top to relieve pressure.
Each passing minute offered more and more evidence to reinforce his status as a regular within the U.S. national team pool. Brooks is not the finished product — he cleaned up his own poor clearance in the first half with an intelligent recovery run and received a fortunate reprieve from Ivica Olic after conceding possession inside his own half after the interval — yet his promise is evident. It is why Hertha manager Pal Dardai continues to ride through those occasional missteps and rely on Brooks to provide a solid foundation in defense.
“It’s small steps, yeah, but I think I’m finally there,” Brooks said. “And I can go on.”
There is a considerable opportunity ahead for him to sustain his international claims over the next fortnight in the wake of this largely assured performance in Hamburg.
Brooks remains mired in a fight to establish himself as a regular under Jürgen Klinsmann. His flourishes — including that iconic goal against Ghana in Brazil last summer — and his evident physical qualities hint at a broader role in the national team setup over the next few years, but those momentary lapses against Hamburg reinforce the strides still required to confirm his place.
“Of course, it gives me a lot of confidence,” Brooks said. “I hope I can put it into the games in Switzerland and Denmark.”
The next 10 days allow Brooks to place the relegation battle on hold and train his focus on his international quest. He notes the importance of separating his club duties from his international obligations, but the two paths coincide naturally. One side bleeds into the other no matter the precautions taken.
In this instance, it is a benefit to his cause. Hertha asserted control after the break and benefited from Cleber’s dismissal for a second bookable offense in the final half-hour. Sebastian Langkamp nodded home from a free kick to dispatch 10-man Hamburg and spark those wild celebrations.
It is a feeling Brooks will chase on multiple fronts as this year unfolds. He must play his part to help Hertha confirm a place in the Bundesliga next season and steer the U.S. national team to CONCACAF Gold Cup success. Everything is in front of him now. It is now just a matter of grabbing onto these opportunities with both hands and taking every possible step to ensure they transform into a matter of course as his career continues.