Amber Brooks may not be the first name that comes to mind when talking about who might be called up to the USWNT in the next year or so, but perhaps she should be.
With the USWNT officially in the rebuilding stage in between major international tournaments, there has been much conversation about who might factor into the picture for the 2019 World Cup. Jill Ellis said at the beginning of this process that she would be looking at the NWSL as the prime market for identifying talent that could translate to the international stage. This has paved the way for many of the new faces we’ve seen in recent friendlies, including Casey Short, Lynn Williams, and Kealia Ohai.
There are still pieces of the puzzle missing, however, if their struggles against the top teams in the She Believes Cup is any indication. One of those pieces happens to be a primarily defensive-minded, holding midfielder who can hold down the fort and spring the strong attack. Without the steadying defensive presences of Lauren Holiday and Shannon Boxx, the USWNT has looked slightly lost when it comes to feeding the ball through the middle and stopping attacking runs before they get to the backline.
In the NWSL, there are few better at that job than Amber Brooks.
Brooks came up with the National Team youth system, playing in major tournaments for the U-17, U-20, and U-23 sides. Her college years were spent playing for the vaunted UNC Tarheels under legendary Anson Dorrance. Brooks was looked at by the USWNT in 2013–during Tom Sermanni’s tenure–earning one cap and 81 minutes against Brazil. Her club career includes a stint at Bayern Munich, as well as playing with Portland and Seattle in the NWSL before landing in Houston.
Brooks came to Houston in October of 2015, by way of the blockbuster trade that landed Alex Morgan in Orlando and Meghan Klingenberg in Portland. While Houston has struggled (to put it lightly), Brooks has provided a bright spot in their lineup. She’s a strong presence on the field, she’s a ruthless defender, and her free kicks and eye for offensive service make her a perfect lynch-pin for an attack. With Morgan Brian out with persistent injuries and National Team duty for much of 2016, Brooks became the stalwart presence that helped the Dash midfield and defense steady themselves after their shaky start. She has only grown in that role for them as the 2017 season has progressed.
For a USWNT so desperate for defensive solutions that they have resorted to putting attacking midfielders in at center back, under the guise of needing someone to direct the attack from the back, Brooks would be a valuable stop-gap as a defensive mid. She is not particularly fast, but she is smart about compensating for her speed by choosing her moments, similar to Sauerbrunn. Having her in front of the backline would provide some peace of mind to a struggling defensive system and allow attacking mids like Allie Long and Carli Lloyd to range farther forward where their heads can provide perfect targets for Brooks’s strong service.
Houston has most definitely benefitted from having Brooks offensive skills over the past couple of years. Her solid presence and ability to direct play allows players like Andressinha, Morgan Brian, and Carli Lloyd to assume their preferred attacking roles. Brooks has also developed good connections with Rachel Daly and Kealia Ohai in the Dash’s frontline, often feeding them through balls that they can run onto as often as their heart desires.
While Brooks is 26–a bit older than the young phenoms that Ellis has shown a preference for–she definitely deserves another look at the defensive mid position for the USWNT. Her years of experience are exactly what the USWNT needs to balance out their glut of young attackers and strengthen the backbone of the lineup. Brooks can provide an offensive rallying point and perhaps give Becky Sauerbrunn some peace of mind.