Until Nov. 8 of this year, the Philadelphia Union had never won a trophy in their club's history.
Three times they arrived to the final of the US Open Cup, and three times they watched their opposition conduct the trophy celebration. They then had a chance to clinch the Supporters' Shield a week before Decision Day this season, but fell to Columbus Crew SC. Some unwelcome but familiar doubt had begun to mount as they took the field on Nov. 8 knowing a win would secure them the Shield.
After 90 hard-fought minutes, the referee blew his final whistle to confirm a Union 2-0 win. Instant euphoria.
At the center of it all stood Brenden Aaronson, the local-boy-come-good. He came through the academy, dreaming of this chance to deliver the club's first-ever trophy. With a move to RB Salzburg already agreed for the winter, he was desperate to lift hardware before leaving and came through on that desire.
And there he was, celebrating with his teammates at Subaru Park, a group forever enshrined in club history.
“You kind of go into a shock," Aaronson told MLSsoccer.com of his immediate feelings. "A lot of emotions came. Being from the area, coming up through the academy, struggling through years — it all came together. It was an amazing feeling to win the club’s first trophy and to be part of history."
After prolonged celebrations on the field then in the locker room, the adrenaline finally started to subside a little for Aaronson as he left the stadium. The bright lights flicked off, he exited from boisterous locker room festivities. As one might expect, the celebrations didn't stop for many.
That includes Aaronson, though not in the way one might expect: He and his girlfriend went and got some chicken wings.
“I'm probably weird for doing that," Aaronson said with a laugh. "But after the game I felt so high, I was so exhausted. I just wanted to chill.”
It was quite the month for the rising star.
Aaronson's historic transfer to Salzburg was announced, he won a trophy as promised for the club he loves, was named to the 2020 MLS Best XI and even celebrated his 20th birthday.
The last two years have been quite the whirlwind, too. Aaronson broke into the first team, won a starting spot and never looked back. He helped the Union win their first-ever playoff game last season and got his first call-up to the US national team. His form hit another level this year and he had interest from plenty of clubs from Europe, but not for the first time.
ESPN's Taylor Twellman first revealed on the broadcast of Philly's 2-1 loss to the Crew that he could have gone to Europe instead of signing a Homegrown deal with the Union.
“I had some teams I guess you could say sniffing around," Aaronson acknowledged. "For me, seeing how the league has come and the kids coming out — that was when Tyler Adams was breaking out, Alphonso Davies doing incredibly well. I was at home, I felt comfortable. I didn’t want to go overseas and maybe struggle. I wasn’t a pro at the time, you know what I mean? Going over is taking a risk, you have to learn on your own."
A source told MLSsoccer.com that while there was interest from clubs in the English Premier League, German Bundesliga and Dutch Eredivisie, Aaronson was never all that close to leaving. If a homegrown offer didn't come, it was more likely he'd have enrolled at Indiana University, where he had committed to play collegiate soccer, to continue his development.
"I made the right decision," Aaronson said. "It was my dream to play for the Union my entire life, it’s what I’ve been working towards my entire life. It was truly a dream come true. I’m really proud of everything that’s happened.”
Aaronson's story with the Union isn't over just yet. He's hungry for more as the top-seeded Union prepare for their playoff run.
“We still have some unfinished business in the postseason," Aaronson said flatly.
The Union's run gets started Tuesday against the New England Revolution (8 pm ET | TV & streaming info), the team they beat on Decision Day to claim the Shield. It'll be the sixth time the two sides face each other in 2020.
Though never easy, the Union are among the favorites to win MLS Cup. They aim to become the eighth team to win the Shield/Cup double, a feat last achieved by Toronto FC in 2017.
“I don’t know how many teams in MLS have done the double, it’d be really cool to do that," Aaronson said. "We have an advantage of being home, we’re in a really good spot. We can’t let the Shield get us too high. Going into the first round, it’ll be hard. Just staying confident, doing what we’ve been doing all season.”