BRIAN SCIARETTA - Thursday, May 12, 2011
As the US U-20 team prepares to head to France for the first games of the new cycle, the defense will be anchored by Hertha Berlin's Anthony Brooks, who is expected to be a top player for the team within the next two years.
Brooks, 18, is coming off a season at Hertha when he was promoted from Hertha's U-19 team to the U-23 team and has played there on a consistent basis.
The transition to the U-23 team went very well for Brooks who is confident in his abilities to make the jump.
"Off course it was a higher level," Brooks told YA from Germany. "But I think that I didn't need that much time to play this level. We won a lot of games and since then I'm playing in the first eleven in the Under-23."
Brooks' development at Hertha Berlin has been steady but also very rapid. He is very quick to attribute this improvement to the club's coaching staff who have been very instrumental in his growth as a player.
"A lot," Brooks replied simply when asked about the importance of Hertha's coaching on his game. "They [drove] me and gave me the [confidence] to play the games for the Under-23 already."
Hertha Berlin's senior team is coming off a very solid season and has earned promotion into the German Bundesliga for the 2011/12 season by winning the current term's 2. Bundesliga title.
Despite playing in one of the best leagues in the world, Brooks remains quietly confident that next year he can earn another promotion within the club. He plans to start the year at the U-23 level but feels as if his Bundesliga debut could come within the year.
"They plan for me in the future to be in the first team in two to three years," Brooks discussed. "I will [begin] my games this year in the under-23s and I hope that I can join the first team next season. [My goals next year are] to come in the first squad of Hertha and hopefully I will soon [play] my games in the first team."
Brooks plays as a left footed central defender whose strengths are his passing out of the back and his speed. While many central defenders in the US system are of the physically-tough variety, Brooks is different type of player.
I played some matches as left defender but I'm an central defender. I [have] a good header, I have good passing skills and I'm not that slow. I like to play soccer. So I'm not the killer-[type of defender], I'm more the playing [type of] defender.
Brooks was born in Germany but like so many other successful American internationals, he has American citizenship through an American father who was in the US military stationed in Germany.
"I didn't live in the USA," Brooks admitted. "I was always in Germany and the only contact I have is my grandmother who lives in the USA. My father was in the military."
Despite never living in the United States, Brooks is very happy to be representing the US on the international level. For him, it came down to the fact that Germany never was interested but the US was very eager to have him involved.
"I'm very proud that I can play for this country," Brooks stated. "Till now Germany didn't call me and I like to play for the US."
One key believe in Brooks is former US U20 head coach Thomas Rongen who is continuing to work with US Soccer in talent evaluation. Rongen brought Brooks into the US U-20 team last cycle once during a trip to Peru. After that camp, Rongen tried to call in Brooks a few more times but Hertha routinely denied his release.
Rongen is very excited that Brooks will be with the team in France and feels that he has a bright future for both the US and with Hertha.
"He's a guy who I feel has a very bright future," Rongen said of Brooks. "He's a  playing with the reserve team pretty consistently. He's athletic and he can really play out of the back. He's a good passer and he's good in the air. He can get a little stronger but he's been playing against men for the past year."
"I feel that this kid is definitely at a good starting point to build the next [U20] team around in terms of defenders. I am very high on this player."
Brooks is in the last year of his contract but he and his agent are currently involved in contract negotiations with Hertha for a long-term extension.
Rongen is not surprised that the club is very eager to keep him as they prepare to join the Bundesliga next year. As the US U-20 head coach responsible for bringing the youngster into the setup, Rongen felt that he also did not want to lose Brooks on the international level because he feels the player could progress to the level that even his native Germany could be interested.
"You don't want to let that kid go, believe me," Rongen said frankly. "Is he ready to play in the Bundesliga now? I don't think so. Will he someday? Without a doubt. Will there be a day when Germany could come knocking? I wouldn't be surprised at all. That's why we wanted to get these guys into the pool as quickly as possible."
"We don't have too many left-footed centerbacks to begin with," Rongen concluded. "They're hard to find and this kid has special qualities."