SAO PAULO – New United States soccer hero John Brooks will be rewarded for his game-winning goal-scoring exploits by … being sent back to the substitutes bench.
Brooks, whose vital header in the 86th minute handed the U.S. a 2-1 victory over Ghana in Natal on Monday, will return to a backup role after first-choice central defender Matt Besler's hamstring injury turned out to not be serious.
Besler came off at halftime as a precautionary move by coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who sent Brooks on as a replacement. The 21-year-old acquitted himself well with a solid defensive display and that famous goal.
"Matt is no problem," Klinsmann said of Besler, who underwent an MRI after the team's return to Sao Paulo on Tuesday. "He is fine for the next game."
Besler has established himself as one of the U.S.'s most dependable defenders and is one of only a handful of players guaranteed to start whenever fit. However, Brooks, who is second on the depth chart at left-sided center back, did himself no harm by holding his nerve against Ghana in his World Cup debut.
"I will be ready for anything," Brooks said about his future role.
Virtually unknown to the American sporting public before the tournament, Brooks was the subject of front-page newspaper headlines across the country on Tuesday morning, including the classic "Johnny Futbol."
Even so, Klinsmann will feel reassured that Besler is healthy enough to start against Portugal, especially with a series of injuries creeping up on the team. Against Ghana, Jozy Altidore suffered a hamstring strain that could keep him out of the lineup, and Clint Dempsey broke his nose but will play Sunday.
"I don't think his injury is too bad at all," Graham Zusi said of Besler, his Sporting Kansas City teammate and best friend. "It was more of a precaution to keep him out of the second half. We fully expect him to be back with the guys."
Despite some nervous moments, the U.S. backline, the most inexperienced part of Klinsmann's roster, performed a key role in the Americans' strong start to the tournament.
"They did extremely well with the unexpected changes," Zusi said. "Cam [Geoff Cameron] was an absolute monster for us. [Besler] while he was in there was as solid as ever. Brooks did his part and got the game-winner."
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