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SANDY — Real Salt Lake Academy product Brooks Lennon had a lot on his plate when he moved to England as a teenager with English Premier League side Liverpool FC in 2015.
The homesickness. The different food. Fighting for a spot on the Reds’ esteemed academy roster. It was all real, he said.
And then there was driving.
"The roundabouts — you don’t know which way the cars are coming," said Lennon, who barely had his driver's license when he arrived in Merseyside. "The driving was probably the most difficult part."
But after a standout career with RSL’s Under-18 squad, the Paradise Valley, Arizona, native got into a rhythm. He went on to a two-year career with the Reds, sprung himself into the U.S. international picture with a starting role at the Under-20 World Cup, and eventually felt the longings of home calling him.
Now he’s back for good.
Real Salt Lake formally announced the permanent acquisition of Lennon on Wednesday morning, keeping the 20-year-old winger in an RSL kit for the foreseeable future.
Funny roundabouts aside, Salt Lake general manager Craig Waibel was impressed by the growth and maturation of the former 16-year-old academy star after a couple of seasons in England. He grew into a full-fledged international player, leading the U-20 World Cup group with six goals and three assists en route to the U.S. quarterfinal appearance in South Korea.
"He came back a different player than when he left," Waibel said of Lennon. "Liverpool is a wonderful environment, and Brooks played a lot of soccer while he was over there.
"I don’t think we know his ceiling quite yet. The best attacking players never stop evolving until they turn a corner physically, and Brooks is so far from that. We think there is still a lot of room to grow."
"We couldn't be happier as an organization." pic.twitter.com/0yxjFwISMx— Real Salt Lake (@RealSaltLake) December 20, 2017
Terms of the deal were not disclosed per team policy, but the deal is believed to keep the youngster as a central fixture for the Salt Lake side for many years to come.
"It’s great knowing that the club believes in me and wanted to re-sign me. Real Salt Lake is committed to me, and that’s great to see," Lennon told KSL Sports by phone Wednesday morning. "It’s obviously nice playing for my boyhood team, and having a lot of the guys from my same academy team on the first team. It’s great to see Real Salt Lake’s youth teams doing things well."
Lennon becomes the seventh homegrown player to join RSL on a permanent basis prior to the 2018 season, which kicks off March 3 at FC Dallas. The winger who scored three goals with four assists in his inaugural season in MLS joins Danilo Acosta, Jordan Allen, Justen Glad, Jose Hernandez, Bofo Saucedo and newly signed defender Aaron Herrera in the first team, where they will be coached by former RSL Academy coach Freddy Juarez.
"That made my transition from Liverpool to Salt Lake so much easier," Lennon said of current RSL assistant coach Juarez. "They welcomed me with open arms and I went straight into it knowing that I could score some goals, and I am glad I did."
The full-time deal for Lennon fits into the overall goals of Waibel, who also acquired forward Jefferson Savorino on a permanent designated-player deal from Venezuelan club Zulia FC to kick off the offseason and inked head coach Mike Petke to a three-year contract extension.
RSL’s homegrown talent logged 5,656 minutes in 2017, representing 18.6 percent of all minutes played in 2017 — the third-most in Major League Soccer.
"We couldn’t be happier, not only in the front office but the coaching staff and the organization," Waibel said. "This is a big moment for us to continue to develop (as a club)."