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Player spotlight

With strong start for Philadelphia, Aaronson aims for a late U-20 chance

The youth movement in MLS at the start of the 2019 season has seem a lot of success stories emerge. One of them is Philadelphia Union attacking midfielder Brenden Aaronson who become important to his team and also could make a late push to be part of the United States U-20 World Cup team. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
April 16, 2019
4:00 PM
THE EARLY PART of the 2019 MLS season has seen an impressive amount of playing time given to young domestic players. In total, 53 players eligible for either the U.S. U-17, U-20, and U-23 teams have played at least one game. For many fans it has been refreshing to see as many of these young players have now become key players for their teams.

Brenden Aaronson, 18, fits that mold and has been among the better players so far for the Philadelphia Union. The Medford, N.J. native was initially given minutes when Mexican international Marco Fabian was serving a suspension. But Aaronson thrived in Fabian’s absence and it forced head coach Jim Curtin to find a way to keep both Aaronson and Fabian on the field at the same time. The result has been a diamond midfield with Aaronson shifting from his natural No. 10 position into one of the dual No. 8 roles where he also has the freedom to push forward.

As of now, both Philadelphia and Aaronson are happy with the early stages of his career. But it wasn’t long ago when Aaronson had to make the decision as to where to start his career. Aaronson had options abroad but both he and his family felt the Union offered him a platform to earn important first-team minutes early.

Aaronson grew up an avid fan of Liverpool and readily acknowledges that he would like to play abroad in the future. He also grew up a Union fan and his family had season tickets during the inaugural season in 2010.

Recently, the number of top young American players which have moved abroad has been split between those who have moved abroad right away and those who have started their careers in MLS before earning a transfer and Aaronson points to the examples of Tyler Adams and Canadian forward Alphonso Davies.

“Last year you saw Mark McKenzie and Auston Trusty playing for Philadelphia,” Aaronson told ASN. “They were playing young players and that was a turning point for me. I was definitely looking to go overseas but I felt this was the best option for me. I am a guy that likes to be on the ball a lot. I like a team that keeps possession more but some games you have to go off the counterattack - like the Atlanta game. It's good. Philly was just the best option and I've seen all these young guys come through and get their chance.”

“I see it two ways,” he continued. “It's an awesome feed to Europe and you see guys like Adams, Davies, and Almiron getting sold and doing really well there. It's something to think about. MLS has made some big steps and I am happy to be a part of it.”

Aaronson joined the Union organization from Real Jersey Football Club which has around 140 kids but has already sent nearly 20 players to the Union’s academy. The club was actually founded by Brendan’s father, Russell Aaronson, who still serves as the club’s president.

The elder Aaronson recalls the decisions that went to into signing with the Union and says that it was decision for the entire family. He also emphasized that every kid is different in what is best at this stage of his career and that his younger son, Paxten Aaronson, who is also a top prospect might make a different decision.

“You have to take each kid and think about the kid first,” Russell Aaronson said. “It sounds like a really easy idea to ship your kid over to Europe at 16 or 18 and say this is where you’re going to sink or swim. But you have to remember you’re dealing with teenage kids first…They need mentoring, parenting and school.”

“I think for Brenden, we had a comfort level with the Union - especially Jim Curtin and the staff,” Russell Aaronson added. “He had some opportunities and some really good ones, but in the end of the day, you have to know your child. For some kids they have to get away from their comfort zone, and for some Europe is that - to get away from their parents... With Brenden, he pushes himself and we didn't have to send him to Europe to provide that. He comes home, he's with his brother and sister and there is a bond there that if we broke that too early…. For us, the Union a very good launching pad. Every kid is different but for Brenden, this has been a very good situation where if he continues to succeed, we can look back and say it was the right path.”

For a small-framed Aaronson, that path he chose in Philadelphia has been very promising at the start as he has adjusted to the men’s game well as Philadelphia is now in fifth place in the Eastern Conference to start the season. The best moment for Aaronson came in a 1-1 road draw against defending Champions Atlanta when Aaronson scored a big goal against Brad Guzan.

“It's a lot more physical going from academy soccer to men's soccer,” Aaronson said. “I also played a lot in the USL last year so that was also something that allowed me to take this step into MLS. But the size is also part of it because I am still smaller. I still don't have that power yet so I have to think through the game. Just being able to read the game and know what is happening helps me.”

For Russell Aaronson, watching his son develop at his club in New Jersey, he remembers that part of Brenden’s development was in large part due him being undersized during his youth. That forced him to think in detail about the game in order to succeed. Now that he is growing into his frame, he has the added physical skillset – but his foundation of reading and anticipating the game will always be his core.

“Brenden has been under the radar, and I wouldn't have it any other way,” Russell Aaronson said. “I have pictures of him being undersized. There were giants around him throwing him around and he would get frustrated. To this day, he plays the game different because in his brain, he had to play differently. I give so much credit to something that frustrated him so much in his early years. It developed his brain. He grows, and he's still the same player and now he can start to use his physical abilities - and that hasn't even really started that yet. It's not a sprint, it's a marathon.”

Curtin has been impressed with Aaronson and further believes his foundation centered on reading and thinking through games gives him a huge upside.

“He’s been a guy that as a coach you can’t take off the field,” Curtin said. “He’s dominated games in Atlanta, against Columbus and some moments against Dallas. He just has left a really big impact and kind of is proof that too much in this country we get caught up in size and physicality when really it’s soccer IQ and knowing what to do and when to do it on the field and by the way he also runs and covers more ground than anybody so you can do both.”

The past two months have also set up an interesting situation for Aaronson who trying to make a push to make the United States U-20 national team for the upcoming World Cup. ASN has heard Aaronson is on the preliminary 50-player roster for the World Cup team but some established players like Alex Mendez, Paxton Pomykal, Richard Ledezma, and Christian Cappis are his main competition. Aaronson has never played with the U-20 team but has played against it in a friendly while playing for the U.S. U-19 team.

“I've never been with the U-20s but it's kind of been a breakout out beginning of the season,” Aaronson said. “I know the players that are in the pool right now. Alex Mendez is unbelievable. It's definitely going to be a hard pool to break into but it would be an absolute honor to represent the country at the U-20 World Cup. It's always an honor to represent your country.”

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