John Brooks comes and goes in cycles, much like the moon.
He looks like a world-class center back. Then, he has some defensive lapses. Shortly thereafter, there’s some sort of mini-falling out with a coach, and whispers of attitude problems. Finally, those seem to go away, and he re-establishes himself as a top option for club and country.
Right now, Berhalter isn’t a Brooks fan, and he’s publicly said that he wants to see Brooks moving to a new club where he does things that Berhalter also wants the USMNT to do. But Miles Robinson is hurt, the U.S. is now having open auditions for center back six months before a World Cup, and the fact remains that Brooks is the only center back in the USMNT pool that pull out games like this:
Sure, his consistency in 1v1 defending has been suspect at times. So has every other center back on this roster, with the possible exception of Zimmerman, who was undoubtedly one of the biggest winners of the Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying.
But Brooks can defend well at the highest level – even if he doesn’t always show it – and he has a passing range that no other center back for the U.S. can replicate at this point in time. Zimmerman doesn’t pass like Brooks. Maybe someone like Chris Richards can eventually take up the mantle, but he’s not nearly on Brooks’ level in possession right now.
I think that the U.S. going to a World Cup and potentially leaving out an available Brooks, at this stage, could be as perilous as Jurgen Klinsmann leaving Landon Donovan at home in 2014 in favor of many players. A lot of people will single out Julian Green, more will point fingers at Mix Diskerud, who didn’t play, or Chris Wondolowski, because of the Belgium miss, or even Aron Johansson, who was ineffective when Altidore got hurt. But my mind always settles on Brad Davis. We took Brad Davis to the World Cup in 2014 instead of Landon Donovan.
It seems like a similar pattern may emerge in 2022 with Berhalter and Brooks, a coach and player who don’t necessarily seem to gel particularly well, from the outside looking in. But leaving Brooks out of camp in June is a mistake. And it’s only going to become a bigger mistake if he gets left out again this fall.