2021 appearances: 34 of 36 starts in all competitions, 4 assists, 75 chances created.
What Went Right in 2021
Brooks Lennon was a divisive character amongst the fanbase in 2021. It seemed like Atlanta United’s workhorse right-back just kept running and didn’t have a ton to show for the effort. He was obviously the starter over Ronald Hernandez most of the time, and even earned a USMNT call up, but what was the end product?
On paper, Lennon is clearly shown to be one of the top right backs in the league. He had 4 assists and ranked 10th in MLS in chances created at 75. Those are not amateur numbers by any means. In fact, he ranks upwards of the 90th percentile in expected assists, non-penalty expected goals + expected assists, and shot-creating actions. This particular long ball by him set up one of Barco’s many later-season goals last year.
Ezequiel Barco making magic pic.twitter.com/i9kIpEApr0— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) August 18, 2021
However, where his numbers align with much of the ire of the fanbase, though, has to do with his forward ball movement. Lennon is ranked in the 52nd percentile in progressive carries but only the 8th percentile in progressive passes. Granted, the above goal was a lot of typical Barco, but Lennon provided a beautiful long-ball on a platter for Zeke to work with, which is something Brooks doesn’t do often. He is more of a player who loves lateral crosses towards goal, not necessarily the aforementioned through-ball. This isn’t a huge problem, as long as there are folks in the box to receive the ball in the first place.
That being said, has Brooks Lennon just been playing in 2022 while the rest of the team was still figuring out 2021?
2022 Season Outlook
Think about it like this: one of the biggest gripes last year was the fact that no one would truly crash into the box besides Josef, and even he wasn’t doing that as much with his recovering knee. Yet Brooks Lennon was chucking balls across the face of goal with the best of ‘em, just praying someone would be there. Fast forward to 2022 and though we haven’t seen him yet because of the injury picked up at USMNT camp, the rest of the team is actually....getting into the box.
Does Brooks Lennon just have the vision when the rest of the team didn’t? Was he channeling what everyone was screaming about the final third and people were just getting mad at him because the rest of the team just wouldn’t listen? Needless to say, it’ll be interesting to see how many players can find his crosses this year and actually do something with them.
There hasn’t been a ton of talk about Brooks’ ankle issue, but he also hasn’t been a part of any preseason matches. This isn’t necessarily alarming; it isn’t worth pushing him for matches that don’t count, especially with as much work as he’ll likely be putting in this season. But it’s almost certain he’ll be competing with Ronald Hernandez on that right side, and his propensity to whip in lateral crosses may suit this 2022 version of the Five Stripes much better than 2021. Furthermore, Hernandez has shown that he’s going to push for that spot, so there should be plenty of fight for the position throughout the year, which will hopefully translate to yet another positional concern for defending teams.
Speaking of defense, the switch to the 4-2-3-1 just means that everyone will need to step up their game and cover each other. This is a basic concept for this formation, obviously, but Atlanta United has shown it can rapidly increase a player’s defensive potential (late game checkouts, notwithstanding). Brooks Lennon never seemed particularly bad in terms of defense, but he does rank lower than the 50th percentile (well below) on tackles, interceptions, blocks, and clearances. This can, and surely will, be worked on, but Lennon benefits from his stamina and ability to truly put in miles flying up and down the wing. He isn’t afraid to run the length of the pitch and put himself back in a position to defend, so hopefully fans see him channeling a bit of Robinson and Franco when the situation necessitates.
Brooks Lennon has put in the work to finally have a breakout season in terms of assists in 2022. He’ll be an integral part of the Five Stripes this year, and the depth that position has along with Hernandez will pay dividends with national team camps and the U.S. Open Cup on the horizon. Perhaps this year it’ll be obvious he’s simply been playing in the future and we’ve all finally caught up.