Brooks and Jones become American heroes in Natal

COMMENT: The two German-born players were both instrumental in helping USA to a crucial opening win over Ghana
Jermaine Jones and John Brooks were born in Germany, but the ink on their skin and the feeling in their hearts make them both feel very much like Americans.

The sons of American servicemen fathers and German mothers, Jones and Brooks both have dedicated space on their bodies to elaborate tattoos showing their loyalty and love for the United States. On Monday night in Brazil, though, Jones and Brooks worked together to offer the best testament yet to their dedication to the U.S. national team.

And they happened to do it on a night when the USA delivered its most emotionally satisfying and cathartic victory in recent memory.

It seems silly that either of them – or any of the German-Americans on the USA team – still have to “prove themselves” as being American enough. They all are the sons of men who served in the USA armed forces, and each of them has made the conscious decision to wear the colors of the United States. Unfortunately, that’s the reality faced by foreign-born players.

If Jones and Brooks still had detractors within the USA fan base, they must have converted many of them on Monday night after standing front and center against Ghana. Jones was the heart of the USA team, standing up to Ghana’s physical play and winning nearly every challenge he went into. He helped set up Clint Dempsey’s goal just 30 seconds in, then spent the next 94 minutes helping the USA stand strong against the Ghanaian attack.

Brooks’ contributions on the night will be remembered for a monumental game-winning goal, but they went far beyond that. Called on as a halftime substitute for injured center back Matt Besler, Brooks overcame some early nerves to eventually settle in and serve as a vital barrier for a Ghana team that was creating chances but misfiring. Brooks used all of his 6-foot-4 frame to swat away Ghanaian passes into the penalty area, and then used that height to score an 86th-minute winner that sent a pro-USA crowd at Arena Das Dunas into a state of euphoria.

“It’s a great moment for me. It’s unbelievable,” a jubilant Brooks said after the match. “I had a dream. I told some teammates that I dreamed that I scored in the 80th minute and that we’d win the game. It was the 86th minute and we won.”

Delighted Disbelief | Brooks scored the winner with four minutes left on the clock

Overcome by emotion after scoring the biggest goal of his young life, the 21-year-old Brooks fell to the ground in  prayer as his teammates buzzed around him in celebration.

“I thanked God for the great moment. It was unbelievable. I couldn’t believe it,” Brooks said. “It was a great moment. It couldn’t be better.”

Jones had his own special moment, but it came a few minutes later, when the final whistle blew. After standing toe-to-toe with Ghana’s stacked midfield for the better part of 90 minutes, and helping pick up the slack on a rare night when Michael Bradley was not at his best, Jones simply laid down on the turf at Arena Das Dunas, completely spent. USA fans rejoiced and his teammates celebrated and Jones took it all in as he recovered from giving everything he had to give.

“When I heard the whistle, I was completely out of control of my body,” said Jones, who could be seen still wearing a bandage where he’d had intravenous fluids injected after the match.

For Jones, Monday’s win was the realization of his own dream, which appeared to be dead after missing out on the 2008 European Championships with Germany. Having already played for Germany in friendly matches, Jones was no longer eligible to play for the United States. A Fifa rule change re-opened the door for him in 2009, and he looked like he would play for the United States ahead of the 2010 World Cup, only to have an injury thwart that opportunity.

“This is for me the important stuff,” Jones said of finally playing in a World Cup. “I played and tried to take everything in and tried to make my best for the team.”

On this night in Natal, Jones and Brooks helped put away those labels of being German-American – they were simply American. As they looked in awe at the pro-USA crowd filling a Brazilian stadium, Jones and Brooks soaked it all in, knowing that the job is not yet done, but that they did what they had to on this night.

As for any lingering notions that they were somehow not American enough? Jones and Brooks put those to rest.

“Those guys are as American as apple pie,” USA midfielder Kyle Beckerman said of the German-Americans. “Ask them to sing the national anthem and they will.”

On Monday night, Jones and Brooks did more than sing an anthem. They helped deliver a sorely-needed victory for their fans, their team, and the country that is every bit their own.