With the World Cup coming to North America in 2026, Lennon very much wants to start being called to the team by manager Gregg Berhalter.
“It’s so important to me in my career because as a player, you always want to reach for the best things, and in order to be the best, you have to be involved in your national team,” he said. “And one of my ultimate goals is to play in a World Cup. Everyone’s childhood dream, when they start playing soccer is, they watch the World Cup, and they watch the USA. ... That’s the ultimate sense of pride and accomplishment to put on the red, white and blue jersey. It means so much to me.”
Lennon said he knows what Berhalter wants and has worked to become that player. At the beginning of the season, Lennon made a list of goals. He said he’s always been a goal-setter. He will write down long-term and short-term things to attempt to accomplish. He will find photos or pictures of things to remind him of what he’s working toward.
Before the season, he wrote down that he wanted to score five goals and get 10 assists. He has the 10. He has three matches left to reach five.
Part of his goals also included a biweekly focus on improving something about his game. He will spend time after training sessions working on something such as crossing.
Lennon’s offense never has been in question. He consistently has ranked among the league’s top producers in chances created. This season, he’s being rewarded with those chances becoming assists.
It’s the first season with Atlanta United that Lennon has had an in-form striker to connect with. When he joined in 2020, Josef Martinez sustained a knee injury in the season’s first match. He didn’t regain his form, and the team’s offense rarely was consistent.
This season, Lennon has had Giorgos Giakoumakis, who is tied for most goals scored in MLS, getting on the end of his passes.
“We have a really strong bond on and off the field,” Lennon said. “And whenever I’m on the field, and I have time and space, and I’m in a crossing position, I’m always looking for GG in the box because I know if I put it in a dangerous area, he’s going to go after it, attack it and score.”
If there has been a knock on Lennon in past seasons, something that may be keeping him from the U.S. team, it has been his defense.
So, being a goal-setter and someone who tries to be honest with himself, Lennon wanted to improve in that area this season.
To that end, he has spent a lot of extra time working on his one-on-one defending. He studies extra film with assistant coaches, studying his body positioning and the angles he takes. He works on situations so that he knows where to be.
Now, Lennon said his one-on-one defending is one of his strengths and his biggest area of improvement.
“Come game day, I’ve done my homework, and I’m well versed in who I’m coming up against, so that I might have a slightest edge on on somebody,” he said.
Lennon’s dream of playing for the U.S. and the World Cup goes back to watching with his family in 2010 as Landon Donovan scored the winning goal in the 91st minute against Algeria and pushed the team into the knockout rounds in South Africa.
“I just remember watching that game and watching that moment and imagining myself in that specific scenario, every American family is sitting at home watching the TV, cheering you on obviously as a player, but rooting for the country,” he said. “I think that’s such a cool moment.”
Lennon has played for many of the U.S. youth national teams, helping the U20s win the CONCACAF championship in 2017 when he was with Real Salt Lake.
He was called to the senior team for a match against Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2021 and was called back to the January camp for World Cup qualifiers. He didn’t play in those matches.
Lennon thought that he was playing well enough this season to get called to the team for the Gold Cup, which was composed mostly of MLS players.
He was disappointed not to get a call from interim manager BJ Callaghan.
Time to set a goal.
“I just said to myself in order to get a chance with the national team and Gregg to give you an opportunity and to believe in you, you just have to outperform everyone in your position,” Lennon said. “I think if you look at the numbers, I’m doing that.
“I just want the belief from that staff in me. I think if I can get Gregg and his assistants to trust me as a player and believe in me and start calling me, I know that I’ll do my job.”
Atlanta United at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m., Oct. 4, AppleTV, 92.9 FM