BURNFIN: John Brooks, the U.S. hero

6/16/2014

Long live John Brooks.

Long live John Brooks.

John Brooks for president.

Heap any and all praise onto John Brooks as possible — it's deserved.

The man did something no other American has been able to do in the last eight years, beat Ghana.

After Ghana had just scored the equalizer in the 82nd minute, Brooks, who entered Monday's World Cup Group G opening match as a substitute at halftime, headed a corner kick into the back of the net for the 2-1 win and three vital points in what is being billed as the Cup's group of death.

They had to have that result.

With Portugal — albeit a less formidable side, it seems, after a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of the Germans — and aforementioned Germany on the horizon, the Americans desperately needed three points against the team that had eliminated the Stars and Stripes from the past two World Cups.

Just seconds into the match, while I was still pouring a fresh beer and settling down for the match, Clint Dempsey broke through the Ghana back line and put the opener off the right post and into the net for the extremely early 1-0 lead.

Over the next few minutes, it was American elation, interspersed with a couple more chances to break it open to 2-0.

It felt as though the U.S. might be able to pour it on, and buff out any semblance of memories from the 2006 and 2010 heartbreaks. But with match still young, the most feared scorer the Americans have, Jozy Altidore, went down in a heap, grabbing at his hamstring.

Oh, no.

And on a run to a ball that was perfectly placed in front of Altidore, which could have given him a chance to break through as the almighty striker he has been billed to be.

Out went Altidore on a stretcher, in came little known Aron Johannsson, whose first few touches left American supporters helplessly cheering for the defense to hold stiff — and, in the longterm, for Altidore to only be cramping.

For awhile, they did. Goalkeeper Tim Howard, as ESPN announcer Ian Darke noted on the telecast, did his best Gandalf impression — 'You shall not pass!'

Yet, not even the acclaimed Howard could keep the attacking Ghana side at bay for 90 minutes. Andrew Ayew scored the equalizer in the 82nd minute on a beautiful back-heel pass from Asamoah Gyan. Now, it seemed, fans could only hope that Ghana would not score again, with a reeling back line and an inept attack without Jozy at the head.

And even if the Americans could hold on for the draw, was one point enough in the so-called group of death? That would assuredly mean the need for a win over Portugal, a tough task, even with a down Portuguese side.

No. The Americans needed another miracle — one along the lines of Landon Donavan's strike against Algeria in 2010 in South Africa to send the U.S. to the knockout stage.

But Donavan was now in his analyst chair at ESPN. Who could be the hero? Who would score the desperately needed goal against the arch-nemeses?

New U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who took over from Bob Bradley, the coach for those American teams that lost to Ghana, got it from the most unlikely of sources in Brooks.

The 21-year-old defender with dual citizenship in the U.S. and in Germany came in as a substitute at halftime for the injured Matt Besler, and, just four minutes after the equalizer, became the first American substitute to ever score in a World Cup game, setting up the Americans in good position with three points alongside Germany in Group G.

So, yes, so far, John Brooks is the name chanted by the American Outlaws, when they're not chanting, "I believe that we will win" that is.

Up next? Portugal on Sunday. I believe.

Sports reporter J. Levi Burnfin can be emailed at lburnfin@gctelegram.com

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