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SSFC Spotlight: Brooks Lennon enters USMNT fullback conversation

The Atlanta United defender has come on strong over past month.

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USMNT Training Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos/Getty Images

At least one player took advantage of the recent United States Men’s National Team winter camps. Brooks Lennon earned an invitation, performed well in training, and impressed during the friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina. The 24-year-old Atlanta United fullback received a call-up to the ensuing international window that features three World Cup qualification matches. As the depth chart continues to shift, this may be his best and only opportunity to make an impact during the current cycle.

Lennon was born in Paradise Valley, Arizona and trained with Vitória de Guimarães and Sporting Lisbon. He began playing with the Real Salt Lake AZ academy in 2012, spending three years with the program. His goal and two assists in the final clinched the 2013 Development Academy Championship. In 2015, Liverpool signed him to a contract following a canceled trial at Aston Villa and a passport delay that “dragged on for over a year.”

During his first year in England, Lennon played with the second team in the Premier League 2 and the U-18 side in the FA Youth Cup. Liverpool considered the forward a “hard-working and extremely focused individual” with “good talent, good talent, and a good personality.” The next season, he appeared consistently with the reserves but was in need of senior minutes.

“I matured very quickly living on my own over there, and I worked hard to compete with the best players in the world at my age,” Lennon told the Associated Press. “I definitely grew as a player. I think I got so much better through experience, and also some of the coaching that I was able to get was phenomenal.”

In 2017, Lennon returned to Real Salt Lake on loan. In his first professional season, he made 25 appearances, contributing three goals and two assists. The initial focus was development, but “injuries thrust him into a starting role.” At the end of the season and with six months remaining on his contract, the decision was made to stay in MLS.

After initially turning down a permanent deal, Liverpool agreed to a transfer with Real Salt Lake. His second year at the club featured a position change, from an attacking role to fullback, playing there for the first time in his life due to an injury crisis. In 2018, he made 37 total appearances and assisted on five goals. The club named him Defensive Player of the Year, an impressive feat considering the recent switch.

The next season, he featured in 28 MLS matches. However, his playing time faded down the stretch, culminating by not appearing in the playoffs. In December of 2019, Lennon moved to Atlanta United and signed a multi-year extension through 2023.

“Brooks is a versatile young player and we are pleased to add him to our club,” said Atlanta United technical director Carlos Bocanegra said. “In addition to his vast experience on the international level with U.S. Youth National Teams, he has proven to be a reliable starter in MLS. He can play both fullback and wing positions and we expect him to have an integral role in our long-term plans.”

In his first year, Lennon played in 26 matches, contributing two goals and three assists. Atlanta endured a difficult season, with the COVID-19 pandemic and the firing of a manager. According to Dirty South Soccer, the new signing “provided functionality” with “directness and hard running up the touchline [that] was useful for the team tactically,” a stable option while the club went through turmoil.

Lennon came on strong in 2021, putting up five assists and becoming a key player for the Five Stripes. “I would call myself reliable and consistent,” he said after the season. “I think the most important part for me is being consistent throughout the entire season, and I felt like I did that this year really well. It’s tough to stay healthy the whole year and play every single week and give everything you have in your body to get a result, so I’m really proud of myself.”

At the international level, Lennon is eligible to represent the United States and the Republic of Ireland. He has appeared consistently for the former program, beginning with the U-17 team. His four goals helped clinch the 2017 CONCACAF U-20 Championship, which saw him named to the tournament’s Best XI. At the ensuing World Cup, the attacker scored twice and assisted thrice during an impressive run to the quarterfinals. After being added to the training camp roster for 2020 Olympic qualifying, Atlanta United stopped him from taking part.

Lennon earned his first senior call-up in January of 2018 for a friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina but stayed on the bench. Almost four years later, he received a winter camp invitation and appeared in the 1-0 victory over the same opponent, starting and playing 62 minutes at right back. Gregg Berhalter cited him as “someone who impressed in camp,” having played “reasonably well” in the freer fullback role.

The manager named Lennon to the January training camp and subsequent roster for the upcoming international window, a show of faith deep into the Octagonal. “You can tell he’s played the amount of games in Major League Soccer that he has,” Berhalter said in December. “He has that experience to him, even though he’s a young player, and that’s fun to see in the fullback position. I think he’s a solid, solid fullback.”

Lennon is highly versatile and capable of lining up at five different positions, but primarily operates as an attack-minded right back. He is at his best as an accurate passer higher up the field in a 3-5-2 formation but has developed into a serviceable 4-4-2 defender. The years spent as a striker have given him killer instinct in the final third, described as “an elite crosser and proficient ball-carrier.” His 3.23 “shot-creating actions” put him in the 96th percentile of MLS fullbacks, while 7.1 “passes that assist a shot” are in the 98th percent of all players.

“He’s tenacious,” said Bocanegra. “He’s aggressive. He runs hard. He can beat a guy 1v1 and deliver a cross. He didn’t grow up as a defender, but he has the instincts to defend 1v1. When he senses danger, his alarm bells go off and he chases back to get in the right spot defensively.”

Almost seven years since his heralded move to Liverpool, Lennon has a somewhat unique chance to earn playing time over the next week. With CONCACAF scheduling three-match international windows, Berhalter will likely opt to rotate his squad, utilizing the majority of the roster. Fullback remains the USMNT’s deepest and most competitive position, with another talent being added to the ever-growing list.