Brooks Lennon on U-20s: "We Just Stuck Together"
February 23, 2017
AFTER DROPPING THE OPENER against Panama and conceding the opening goal to Haiti in the second game, things looked bleak for the United States U-20 team in its World Cup qualifying campaign. Somebody needed to step up and put the team on his back.
Brooks Lennon did just that on Tuesday. The Arizona-born winger produced a hat trick to help rally the Americans to a 4-1 win. The young Americans are now in a much better position as they push for a spot in this May’s World Cup in South Korea.
“We're in a positive manner especially after Tuesday's win,” Lennon told American Soccer Now from the U.S. base in Costa Rica. “Coming from behind as well was good because we showed the fight and the strength in the team. Moving forward we are going to improve on every performance.
"I think we'll be fine.”
The United States will wrap up Group B play on Friday when it takes on lowly St. Kitts & Nevis. A win will give the U.S. six points but the Panama-Haiti game that day will likely decide whether or not the U.S. team finishes first or second in the group. The likelihood is that Panama will prevail as it needs just a single point to win the group.
Should that scenario play out, the U.S. received some good news early this week as tournament hosts Costa Rica stumbled. A second-place finish will have the Americans in Group D along with El Salvador and Mexico. The top two teams from Group D would then advance to the World Cup.
Despite the apparent good news, Lennon and the rest of the U.S. squad are focused on their own performances. Even in the win over Haiti, the Americans were not nearly as good as the result suggests. The team must play much better in the next Group if it wants to book its place in South Korea—and the players know the team is still playing below its capabilities.
“I think we still have a ways to go reach our full potential,” Lennon said. “I think every game we're starting to gel more, every practice we are getting to know each other more. We have solid players all over the pitch. Our defenders have been solid the past few games. Of course you want to improve on the attacking side as well. We have quality players in the final third and we can finish more chances. But that is just going to come with playing together.
"The more games we play, the more chances we will create and finish.”
Lennon believes the team learned a valuable lesson from the Panama loss, during which it played with a man advantage for 72 minutes, conceded a goal, and failed to convert any of its chances. It was a frustrating performance for the team to open the tournament but the fact that it came early allowed head coach Tab Ramos to address the problems —which Lennon felt were mental mistakes as opposed to faults with the tactics or game plan.
“We knew we had to improve on the performance from Panama," Lennon said. “We learned. We came out slow and we know that every team in this tournament is going to come out and fight. We can't take any team lightly in this tournament. We just focused on the mentality aspect of it and making sure that we are really mentally prepared for every game and every player is ready to perform.
"I think we definitely improved from our performance against Panama but the more games we play, the better we're going to get. I really believe in this team and I think we can go far.”
The cycle has not been smooth for Lennon, and Ramos had doubts about the player given his drop in form late in 2016. Fortunately, the start of 2017 has seen Lennon rebound to the point of where he is considered one of the team’s best players.
“Brooks looks great at the moment,” Ramos said the day before the U.S.' opening game. “He's gone through some ups and downs. His experience at Liverpool has been great for him. I spoke with Brooks just about a week ago on this. About a year ago if you were to ask me who the best player on the U-20s was, I probably would have said Brooks. And then he went through a rough patch the past six months or so.
"By the time the year ended or four months ago, he was really not at a good level. I really believe he's changed it around. He getting at this point where he's almost back to where he was a year ago in terms of how much impact he can have on this team. I truly believe he's at a good moment and he's going to help us a lot here in qualifying.”
Lennon is one of the oldest players on the team and has been with the team throughout the cycle. In addition to playing in Liverpool's academy program he also has experience in Real Salt Lake's system. He is now going to spend the 2017 season on loan with Real Salt Lake where he can play first-team minutes.
In between it all he wants to play in the U-20 World Cup this summer and he is playing a pivotal role on the squad.
“I definitely see myself as a leader of this group,” Lennon said. “I am one of the older guys here and I definitely feel like I can help some of the younger guys on an off the field. I think I am really growing under Tab and being a leader in this group is something I really want to be. I think this team has some really high potential.
“Even when we got scored on early by Haiti, we know we could fight and come back,” he added. “We just stuck together and we know that as long as long as we work hard and stick to our goals, nothing can stop us. As with elimination, we don't worry about that. We know what we can accomplish and we're going to do that.”