SEATTLE — Before the start of the Copa America, John Brooks likely was best known for coming off the U.S. bench to score the winning goal against Ghana in the 2014 World Cup.
Two years later, Brooks seems set on becoming known more as a regular starting central defender for the Americans.
The United States plays in the Copa America quarterfinals tonight against Ecuador largely because Brooks and the rest of his defense have been superb in the past two games, providing solidity to a position that has been in flux for years.
Brooks had a knee injury that caused him to miss World Cup qualifiers against Guatemala in March, but he has started the past six games, the past four paired with Geoff Cameron. Yet even with that recent run of stability in the center of the defense, the Americans have used 15 different center back combinations in its past 30 games.
"I think John over the last two or three years had his ups and downs … but he stayed very determined, very committed to what he is doing. … I think he's just now realizing the sky is the limit for him," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said.
The United States and Ecuador met less than a month ago in a pre-Copa America warmup match in Frisco, Texas, a match decided on Darlington Nagbe's late goal for a 1-0 U.S. victory, although Ecuador was without some of its top players.
Ecuador last reached the semifinals in 1993, when it was the host country. Meanwhile, the Americans are trying to reach the semifinals of the Copa America for the second time in its four appearances and do so in soccer-mad Seattle in front of what should be an almost entirely U.S.-partisan crowd. "I think (tonight) has the potential to be one of the best American atmospheres we've seen," U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley said.
EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP: Late goals from Antoine Griezmann and Dimitri Payet helped host France become the first team to advance to the knockout stages of the tournament with a 2-0 win in Marseille over Albania. In Paris, Switzerland closed in on a spot in the knockout stages for the first time with a 1-1 draw against Romania. In Lille, even though the behavior of Russian fans improved, their team might still be forced out early. Elimination, rather than disqualification, is the immediate threat after Russia lost 2-1 to Slovakia. The red flare set off by Russian fans after their team's lone goal in the 80th minute could prove problematic for the federation, which has been threatened with disqualification from the tournament if there is further misbehavior by its fans in stadiums.