At some point, the United States will stop playing heart-pounding, pulsating World Cup matches for a while. That point in time hasn’t been reached yet, so we should all enjoy an unprecedented run of exciting games and finishes on the world’s biggest sporting stage while we still can. John Brooks joined the likes of Abby Wambach and Landon Donovan with his 86th minute header that gave the USA a 2-1 win over arch nemesis Ghana in their opening game of the 2014 World Cup.
And like the others, the call of the goal will be remembered alongside the pictures, making it that much more meaningful for American soccer fans. Ian Darke’s combination of excitement and disbelief shouting “It’s John Brooks!” was the perfect reaction because he was one of the last players in the 23 man squad you would expect to score a game winner during this tournament.
ESPN lead analyst Taylor Twellman was perhaps more surprised than anyone that Brooks, a 21 year old centerback with just a handful of caps to his name, found himself on the end of a piece of history. “I was probably the one questioning his inclusion on the roster the most and while I stand by my opinion at the time, it doesn’t take away from me tipping my cap to a very young kid who just lived out the dream of so many Americans,” Twellman said from Brazil. “As a player all you ask is for is an opportunity and that is exactly what Brooks got and credit to him for making the most of it.”
The moment was so unexpected and so pulsating that it also produced an uncharacteristic jolt from Twellman in the broadcast booth alongside Darke. There was some debate at AA headquarters about what exactly Twellman jubilantly said before collecting himself and offering analysis of the replay.
“‘It’s in… yes!’ all in about 3 seconds,” Twellman said. “The truth of the matter is I was standing up and almost ripped my headset off when the goal happened, which is why you don’t hear my clearly. I bleed red, white and blue and no matter what I give for my professional opinion, it will never take away from what my heart is. That is 100% American.”
This is Twellman’s first World Cup working for ESPN after joining the network in 2011 after his MLS career was cut short by concussions. At just 34 years of age, he’s rapidly become the best American soccer analyst on television and has even broken several major transfer stories on social media in the last year. Away from the broadcast booth, he’s also visited the White House thanks to his work with his ThinkTaylor Foundation on raising awareness for concussions. With all the talk about Gus Johnson and the need for American soccer voices, it’s easy to forget that ESPN already has one that is among the best in the field.
The USMNT and everyone involved from the fans to the broadcasters has to now come down off this high and get ready for just their second of three games in the Group of Death. And according to Twellman, the team’s fitness will be key as the challenges continue to mount.
“Hydrate, stretch and repeat one thousand times. I am not sure I have ever seen a USA team that gassed in a game let alone an opener. Every single time a player hit the ground I was holding my breath. Altidore, your heart goes out to him and that is a big loss because I am not sure they have the personnel to replace him,” Twellman said.
Although this was just the opening game in the group stage, there was a sense that last night’s goal was another big step forward for American soccer. Surely that moment in that situation produced scores of new American soccer fans last night. And although the historical significance won’t be known until the tournament is over, at the very least it was another unforgettable moment in American soccer history.
Twellman was optimistic that the Ghana victory and Brooks’ goal is one more step in the right direction for American soccer, “I feel that there is a natural progression to the game already so whether or not this game happens, I still believe this sport is ascending and will continue to do so no matter what.”