It was a tough moment for defender Brooks Lennon. Atlanta United’s 2021 season had just come to a close following a 2-0 loss in the first round of the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs. The spark that ignited and grew during the second half of the season diminished all too quickly in 90 minutes at Yankee Stadium.
Facing the media after a season-ending loss would’ve been a challenge for any player. But when Lennon took questions shortly after the game, coming from a locker room full of emotion and frustration, his demeanor was calm and his words were clear. He was understandably hurt, fresh off a disappointing result, but Lennon was able to corral his emotions like a seasoned veteran.
The days that followed allowed him to reflect on the game and the 2021 season. And the conclusion he drew was there’s a lot to look forward to in 2022.
“The frustration after the game is normal,” he said. “You never want to get knocked out in the first game of the playoffs, that’s always a gut-punch. But this is a group that is building. And we have such talented guys on this roster that I think if we have a full preseason under Gonzalo and going into the 2022 season fully prepared, I think that the sky’s the limit for this group and we can host a cup.”
His ability to handle difficult moments shows that Lennon is growing into one of Atlanta United’s leaders. He’s become a consistent presence at right wingback, starting 31 out of 33 matches in 2021. He played over 2700 minutes this season, second most out of anyone on the team, including a full 90 in the playoff match against New York City FC.
“I would call myself reliable and consistent,” Lennon said. “I think the most important part for me is being consistent throughout an 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.”
Not only is he a regular in the starting XI, Lennon is also quietly improving his production. In 2021, he had a career-high four assists, including when he set up Ezequiel Barco’s magical left-footed strike in what was eventually the game-winner over Toronto on Aug. 18. Lennon is one of the league’s best in shot-creating actions (3.23 per 90 minutes). And on passes that assist a shot, he ranks in the league’s 98th percentile with 7.1 total, surging from 3.3 the previous year.
“I’m really proud of myself for those stats,” he said. “That’s also one thing I pride myself on is keeping possession of the ball for the team… that’s very important.”
Lennon is one of the best at possessing the ball, boasting an 86 percent success rate on his passes, which helped Atlanta lead the league in pass completion percentage in 2021. Lennon credits Liverpool, where he spent two years playing in the academy for the English Premiere League club, with helping him understand the value of possession.
His time in MLS began with Real Salt Lake, not far from his hometown in Paradise Valley, Ariz. Before signing with Liverpool, he played Real Salt Lake’s academy program. During the 2014-15 season, Lennon scored 31 goals.
At 19 years old, he made his MLS debut with Real Salt Lake in 2017. He played three seasons in Utah before Atlanta United acquired him in December 2019. His five seasons and over 140 appearances in MLS makes Lennon, even at just 24 years old, one of Atlanta United’s more experienced players.
“I also do pride myself on being a leader on this team,” he said. “And we have a lot of young players. So however I can help, I will. However I can mentor someone, maybe a guy like Tyler Wolff or Jackson Conway, guys that are so young and just breaking into the team, I will.”
Now, Lennon is getting the opportunity to display his strengths on the international stage. He was called up to the U.S. men’s national team for a friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina on Dec. 18. He’s made appearances with the U.S. previously in his career on the U-23’s, U-20’s, and U-18’s, but has yet to make his senior team debut.
Just days before the announcement, Lennon forecasted his own callup.
“I just have to keep my head down, keep working hard and hopefully I can get into the national team picture soon and continue building here, and I think I can do that,” he said.
The chance to represent his home country is an opportunity Lennon earned through his strong 2021 campaign. And it should help him to follow the footsteps of one of his teammates, mentors and fellow U.S. national team players, Brad Guzan. But not only has Lennon worked toward becoming a mentor to younger players and a leader on the pitch like Guzan, he’s also set the goal for himself to captain a side in his career.
“I just need to continue to work hard, build and hopefully the sky’s the limit for me,” Lennon said.