Atlanta United

Brooks Lennon looking to 'lead' Atlanta United to success in 2022

Chris Smith
Lennon is entering his third year with Atlanta United.
Lennon is entering his third year with Atlanta United. / Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Exclusive - After a season of progression, Atlanta United are aiming for untold success in 2022 and Brooks Lennon wants to play a key part in it.

Now entering his third season with the club, Lennon has already achieved a lot in Atlanta, nailing down his starting spot at right-back, becoming a key creative outlet, and making his long-awaited USMNT debut.

Now, with all that experience under his belt, it's time for Lennon to become a leader.

"Definitely," Lennon asserted when asked exclusively by 90min if he's looking to take on more responsibility this season.

"I know I’m still considered a younger guy in MLS just being 24, but I’ve been on the team for a couple of years now. I’m going into my sixth year in the league, so I have experience. I am going to look to be a leader for the younger guys on and off the field.

"I like that responsibility and taking on a leadership role, leading this team to wins in a successful season. However I can help any of the younger guys, or anyone that’s having a rough time by stepping up. Whether it be in a meeting, or on the field, or just helping a young guy if he has a question about something, that’s a role that I really want to take advantage of."

The core leadership group within Atlanta United has experienced some reshuffles during Lennon's time at the club, there are still some big characters around. The 24-year-old specifically picks out club captain and goalkeeper Brad Guzan, as well as new veteran signing Osvaldo Alonso as inspiration when looking to develop his own characteristics.

"I think guys like Ozzie, or Brad being the club captain and having as many years of experience as he does playing in Europe as well. Both those guys are great leaders in different ways," Lennon continued. "Ozzie is a little bit more of a quieter leader, he leads by example, whereas Brad is more vocal and gets the group prepared and ready for battle.

"There are different ways that you can lead, not every person is going to lead the same. I’m ready to bring my own characteristics to the team in how I can lead in a different way."

If Atlanta United are to hit the lofty goals set by head coach Gonzalo Pineda, they're going to need big characters.

Lennon revealed that right from day one this pre-season, Pineda - who was appointed as Gabriel Heinze's permanent successor in August - laid down an MLS Cup, Supporters' Shield, and US Open Cup treble as the key goal.

The defender is under no illusions as to how much hard work will have to go into pulling off such a remarkable achievement.

"These are massive goals that we’ve set out for ourselves," Lennon said, adding: "So that makes it important to be waking up every morning and showing up to training ready to give everything you have for the crest and the club, knowing that on the weekend you’re going to have to battle for a win."

Pineda helped lay the foundations for future success last season, guiding Atlanta United back into the MLS Cup Playoffs after a one-year absence. But Lennon knows this is not enough, merely a starting point on the longer journey of a club geared to win trophies.

"We’re going after the highest goals, which every single club should want to achieve," he said. "But Atlanta United is a club that realistically can achieve those goals. We have so much quality in the team and in the locker room, and a great coaching staff behind Gonzalo. This club is all based upon winning and that’s what we need to do. 

"It was great that we got back into the Playoffs last year, but making the first round and just making the Playoffs is not a success for us. We want to be in that MLS Cup final, hoisting a trophy. That’s what Atlanta United is: winning."

It's easy to forget given how much water has passed under the bridge, but optimism was just as high this time last year. After a year of humiliation in 2020, Atlanta United made a big statement in hiring Heinze, had Josef Martinez returning to fitness, and brought in some more young Argentine talent in Santiago Sosa and Franco Ibarra.

In the end, for some much-publicised reasons (and some less so), it didn't work out.

But the optimism under Pineda feels different. From the outside looking in, it's easy to see the galvanizing effect the Mexican is having on his players, who are smiling and appear to have forged close bonds with one another.

"Gabriel was very, very into the fitness aspect of pre-season and making sure that everyone was at an acceptable level for him to be ready and able to play a 90-minute match. He really harped on the fitness aspect, whereas Gonzalo is more focused on the group," said Lennon, comparing his two most recent permanent head coaches.

He added: "I wouldn’t say one was more fun than the other. Obviously, pre-season is always going to be tough no matter what team or manager with. It’s an opportunity for teams to come in a month or so before the season starts and really get down to business.

"I don’t think it’s about fun, but I do see that the group is gelling really well under Gonzalo and we’ve had a lot of team activities, which is very important for bonding before a long MLS season starts. There are a lot of ups and downs that come within an MLS season, so you want to have that bond with your fellow teammates."

Ultimately, soccer is nothing without the fans. The trials of playing through the pandemic have taught everyone a harsh lesson in that respect.

Few supporters make an impression quite like Atlanta United's, who pack out Mercedes-Benz Stadium week after week and create a noise unique in the MLS landscape - and largely beyond.

Lennon has felt the love of the '17s' from day one and on a personal level, is fully respectful of the responsibility he and his teammates owe to those who 'pay their hard-earned money' to turn up every single week, through thick and thin.

"Ever since the first day I signed here with Atlanta United, the fans have been incredible with me," he said. "The interaction has been so positive and I’m grateful for that because I’ve only been on the team for two years now and I’m going into my third season. To have the love and support of all the fans is important. 

"I love interacting with them as much as I can off the field so that I can create that bond with the fans and they can get to know me a little bit on a personal level, which I think means a lot for them.

"It’s amazing that they pay their hard-earned money to come watch us play, so we need to give back to them. That’s playing well, making sure we’re training well, doing everything with respect on and off the field so that when they do interact with us, they love us. That’s why they support us so heavily."