NATAL, Brazil – As dreams go, the one John Brooks had on Saturday night was pretty darn improbable. Brooks, a back-up central defender who wasn’t expected to see playing time in this World Cup and who rarely ventures out of his own half of the field, dreamed that he would come on as substitute and score the winning goal against Ghana.
On Monday night, somehow, against all odds and with the United States on the ropes, that is exactly what he did.
At 6-foot-4, the German-born 21-year-old has height on his side, but even so, you could scarcely have picked a more unlikely goalscorer to make the critical blow on a night of remarkable drama such as this.
But hey, that’s the World Cup, where dreams are made and, sometimes, come true.
“It is a great moment for me,” said a beaming Brooks as he spoke with reporters an hour after the final whistle at Arena das Dunas. “It's unbelievable that I had a dream about it.
[Photos: World Cup group stage - Ghana vs. USA]
“I told some teammates that I would score in the 80th minute and win the game and I did it - in the 86th minute. The dream was two days ago, and it was also a header from a corner.”
The goal came with time running out and at a part of the game when Ghana looked the more likely victor. The African side had finally capitalized on near-constant second-half pressure to equalize at 1-1 through Andre Ayew after Clint Dempsey had put the Americans ahead in the first minute of the game.
Brooks had come on at halftime, chosen to replace starter Matt Besler, who suffered a knock to his hamstring during a frenetic and physical opening 45 minutes.
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Not only had he never seen World Cup action before, but just getting to this point was a major surprise in itself. Brooks was so poor in an international friendly against Ukraine in early March that he was then thought doubtful to make head coach Jurgen Klinsmann initial 30-man roster, let alone be among the 23 to travel to Brazil.
While physically gifted and with soccer smarts, he was perceived as a little raw and immature, a tag not aided by the fact he missed game time for German club Hertha Berlin last season due to a skin irritation from a tattoo.
One of Brooks’ great attributes is his height and he made it count late on – and in a way that will forever endear him to the vast throng of U.S. fans who made the pilgrimage to Natal on this balmy and electrifying night.
Graham Zusi’s corner from the right was perfect and there was Brooks, advancing toward the ball without a Ghanaian shadow. The contact with his head was precise and it flew into the net to send the U.S. into delirium.
Brooks might have dreamed it, but he could scarcely believe it, sinking to his stomach before being mobbed by his teammates.
“I just ran in the box and hoped that it would come to my head,” he said. “I remembered the dream right after I scored.
“I hadn’t thought about it before then. When I came in I just wanted to do simple things right. In the first few moments I was very nervous.”
They used to joke back when Klinsmann was coach of Germany that he had the Midas touch, that players he had introduced despite criticism or brought on as substitute would invariably shine.
American soccer has gotten to know the German coach over the last few years, but in his first World Cup game in charge of the U.S. the country will be more than happy to accept this quirky little tale.
“This was the first dream like that I’ve had,” Brooks added. “Hopefully it is not the last.”
Hopefully not. One game into the World Cup and sitting second in the Group of Death, the U.S. can start daring to dream.