Two years after leaving the club, one of the most prized prospects in the history of the Real Salt Lake academy is back home – and he’s already paying major dividends.
Nineteen-year-old Brooks Lennon, acquired by RSL this preseason on a year-long loan from English Premier League giant Liverpool, has emerged as one of the top young players in MLS over the last month. After starring for the US Under-20s in their run to the CONCACAF U-20 Championship in February and March, Lennon returned to Utah on the eve of the season and quickly carved out a place for himself in the RSL XI, earning his first start in Salt Lake’s third game of the year, a 2-1 loss to LA that prompted the firing of ex-head coach Jeff Cassar.
He’s kept his place in the lineup since the coaching change, starting a pair of matches under caretaker manager Daryl Shore before going the full 90 in both games since Mike Petke officially took the helm. Lennon has been consistently solid throughout the season – it’s not a stretch to say he’s been one of RSL’s best players this year – but his true coming out party came in the 88th minute of last week’s game at Colorado, when he scored a fantastic goal to give RSL an important, come-from-behind 2-1 victory.
That’s a great goal, and – as Will Parchman wrote earlier this week – an excellent example of what it looks like when an inverted winger is really doing his thing. It’s also a tantalizing few seconds for RSL and their supporters, who could have a big star on their hands – if they manage to acquire him permanently.
“The best thing Brooks has done is fit in,” Waibel told me on Thursday. “He’s come, he’s been a part of the locker room, a part of the work, he’s done very well in the sessions to contribute not only with his attitude, but with the way he’s approaching the game.
“The simplest form of the reward for his play was the goal in Colorado, but we’re still trying to make sure he’s a game in, game out professional. That’s our No. 1 goal, is to have him be a consistent contributor – it’s really only been three weeks of that contribution that culminated with the late goal. So we’re excited, we’re excited for what he can be, but we also understand that he’s quite a ways away from getting to that final product.”
Waibel wouldn’t say if Salt Lake have approached Lennon or Liverpool about a transfer, but, given his play this year, obvious talent and ties to the club, it’s a safe bet that they’ll at least try to land him.
Final product or not, RSL would be smart to try to get a deal done before the MLS Primary Transfer Window closes on May 8. The reason they should move so quickly? The impending U-20 World Cup.
The tournament, which kicks off on May 20 in South Korea, is the biggest showcase for young players in the entire sport. Every club from every major league will have eyes on Korea, and a strong showing for Lennon – the US’s top scorer at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship and a sure U-20 World Cup starter – would drive up his price and likely create interest from other clubs. RSL don’t want either of those things.
But what do Lennon and Liverpool want? Does the Arizona native, whose Liverpool contract expires in May 2018, want to sign a permanent deal with RSL? Would Liverpool entertain selling him before the U-20 World Cup?
Those are questions that, for now, don’t have answers. One thing we do know: If a deal doesn’t get done before the May 8 deadline, RSL wouldn’t be able to complete a move until after the Secondary Transfer Window opens on July 10, nearly a month after the U-20 World Cup ends. Who knows what the market for Lennon will look like then?
RSL don’t need that uncertainty, and they don’t need any extra competition. They have a leg up with Lennon now – they should try to take advantage of that to land him, even if requires paying Liverpool a pre-World Cup premium.
Diaz returns to field, targeting summer return
FC Dallas playmaker Mauro Diaz returned to the training field on Tuesday for the first time since tearing his Achilles last October, jogging, sprinting and doing some individual work with the ball on the sidelines as the full FCD squad practiced nearby.
A club spokesman told me on Thursday that Dallas are now expecting Diaz, who had five goals and 13 assists to lead FCD to the Supporters’ Shield last year, to make a full return in “July or August.” Head coach Oscar Pareja said in January that he was “not counting on having Mauro until June.”
Dallas certainly could’ve used Diaz during their CONCACAF Champions League semifinal loss to Pachuca, but they haven’t seemed to miss the 26-year-old much during their first five matches of the MLS season. They’re currently second in MLS with 2.2 points per game and are one of just two remaining unbeaten teams in the league. They’ll host the other unbeaten, Sporting Kansas City, at Toyota Stadium on Saturday night (8 pm ET; MLS LIVE).