The first of what might be a number of acquisitions and signings for Atlanta United took place this week as Atlanta picked up midfielder/defender Brooks Lennon from Real Salt Lake. Headed the other way is $300,000 of allocation money, split 50/50 between TAM and GAM.
One of Lennon’s draws is his versatility: he’s played both on the wing, as a fullback and at times in the attack, something that the Five Stripes will be able to leverage to their advantage during his career here. And it’s not lost on fans that his skillset somewhat mirrors that of a prominent player already on the roster that is waiting on a new deal before his contract expires in 2020.
So who is Brooks Lennon, the player? I was able to catch up with Lucas Muller, an editor at our sister site, RSL Soapbox, to give us a little bit more insight about what to expect from Lennon in an Atlanta United kit.
For those that haven’t seen a great deal of Brooks Lennon, what is his overall style of play, and what can he bring to the Atlanta United roster from a tactical perspective?
Brooks is a speedy right-sided player. He’s played at right back for much of the last two seasons with Real Salt Lake, but he’s not a defender at heart. Former head coach Mike Petke had him play there as Danny Acosta fell out of favor and Tony Beltran was injured. When he was at Liverpool’s academy, he played as a winger and center forward, which is also his role with the U.S. Youth National Team.
Lennon’s signature move is cutting past a defender, carrying the ball to the end line, and sending in a cross. 2017 was his most productive year for RSL with 3 goals and 4 assists. Those numbers have dropped off as he’s played deeper on the field. His speed helps him as a defender, but he’s not great at 1v1 defending and can be fooled at times by attackers. Atlanta are getting a gifted player, but Lennon needs more development in order to be a regular starter on an MLS team. He can come in at multiple positions, but he hasn’t mastered any of those quite yet. If he’s given a consistent role, and one that is less defensive, he will grow and can contribute to the attack.
You’re familiar with Julian Gressel’s contract situation. The buzz among some fans is that Lennon would be an eventual replacement for Gressel if the club decided not to bring him back. From an RSL fan’s point of view, would you foresee that as a possibility?
Lennon could be a replacement for Gressel. He’s good on the right, but not at Gressel’s level. If de Boer is able to spent time with Brooks, the player is very willing to learn. He’s always seen himself as an attacker, but when asked to play right back, he did so very willingly and made significant strides in that role over the last two seasons. It wasn’t a role he was naturally drawn to, but the fact that he made such an effort and improved a good deal shows an ability to learn and grow as a player.
From a national team standpoint, Lennon’s seen some time with the U-17s, U-18s and U-20s, and was called into a senior team camp in 2018 but wasn’t capped. Obviously, things have changed at the coaching level since then, but is it fair to say that he’s not in the USMNT’s plans or is it a bit too early to determine that with him having just turned 22?
He’s been playing for Jason Kreis’ U-23 team as the former RSL coach prepares for a run at the Olympics next summer. It’s too early to say that Lennon is out of the picture for the USMNT entirely, but if he’s not getting regular minutes with his club team, it’s difficult to see who he replaces. Lennon did say that he’s spoken to Berhalter and the US coach sees him as a right back should he be called up, so Brooks was working hard to improve in that position. That being said, if he does well on the wing for the U-23 squad, that could change Gregg’s mind, but it’s too early to say for certain.