National Writer: Charles Boehm

Brenden Aaronson: USMNT star chasing "legend" status at Leeds United


He’s still just 21 years old, and thanks to a couple of match postponements related to the death of Queen Elizabeth II, he’s played just six league matches for his new club.

They’re already singing Brenden Aaronson’s name at Leeds United, though.

It’s early days, to borrow an English phrase. But with a goal, an assist and several lively individual performances – and the West Yorkshire club sitting mid-table in 11th place after a 2W-2L-2D start – the first few weeks of his daunting switch from the Austrian Bundesliga to the English Premier League have gone about as well as could be expected for the Philadelphia Union homegrown product.

“Honestly, a whirlwind. Going in for preseason, you don't really know what to expect, you know?” admitted Aaronson in a Monday media availability from the US men’s national team’s training camp in Koln, Germany. “You're taking the next step and you're kind of going in like, 'Oh, am I at this level?’ sometimes. And then it's ups and downs.

“But I think I had a good preseason and then it kind of just pushed into the normal season, and I think I was just able to just kind of click with the team, click with the coach, click with the players. It felt like just a seamless fit for me and then it comes along [with] the fans. Just off the bat, I'm really grateful for all the support that they've given me.”

Quickly embraced

The Medford, New Jersey native arrived from Red Bull Salzburg facing elevated expectations via a Leeds-record transfer fee of around $30 million, and his nationality inevitably factored in among the segments of the fan base suspicious of the growing US flavor at the club.

Conversely, he’s benefiting from the presence of a USMNT colleague (New York Red Bulls alum Tyler Adams) and a US-reared manager (Jesse Marsch) at LUFC, a proud, passionately-supported club hungry to remain in the top flight, ideally with less drama than last season’s last-day, last-gasp dodge of relegation. And Aaronson’s quickness, creativity and relentless energy have been a perfect fit in the rough-and-tumble EPL.

“They see how much I work and how much I'm willing to work for the team, and I'll always give 110%, and I think that they like that,” he said of the supporters who’ve embraced him as their “American Boy” at Elland Road.

“That's the kind of team we have. So that's also amazing to see,” Aaronson continued. “I'm really grateful to be at Leeds and I think everybody can see that I'm willing to work 110% and give everything I can to help the team win. And I just want to keep getting better and better and yeah, become the best way I can be and hopefully be a legend for the club at some point.”

Scoring the opening goal in a head-turning 3-0 home win over Christian Pulisic’s Chelsea on Aug. 21 was a huge milestone in his rapid charming of the Whites faithful. A postgame photo capturing Aaronson, Adams and Pulisic exchanging friendly greetings after the final whistle caused a stir among some CFC fans, and on Monday Aaronson was asked about the topic of that chat.

“After the Leeds game, me, Christian and Tyler were talking about golf, and hanging out,” he said with a smile. It turns out that Aaronson is cultivating a new habit thanks to the preponderance of links across Leeds’ northern suburbs near LUFC’s Thorp Arch training ground.

“I've been on the golf grind, I have a little bit of a golf bug right now,” he revealed. “I'm lucky because in the area I am, there's like five golf courses, just different ones, and they're all over the place too. So it's been fun. I mean, also having Tyler there, it's been good getting used to the area, being able to go get food together.”

World Cup sights set

Aaronson’s capacity to be equally impactful both with and against the ball made him one of the USMNT’s regulars in World Cup qualifying despite stiff competition for minutes in manager Gregg Berhalter’s front five. This month’s friendlies vs. Japan (Sept. 23) and Saudi Arabia (Sept. 27) may reveal just how high he’s climbed in the pecking order ahead of Qatar 2022, with the injury-imposed absences of Tim Weah and Yunus Musah opening up the opportunity for Berhalter to try him both on the wing or centrally as a No. 8.

Could the kid from Medford eventually find himself in the starting XI in the Group B opener vs. Wales on Nov. 21? Considering how far he’s come from the Union’s academy, and how fast, he sounds remarkably grounded about it all.

“Positionally-wise, it doesn't really matter,” said Aaronson. “I like playing both positions in different games. I think different games ask different players different [questions] …

“And for me, I think Gregg does a great job with the intro to camps and what we want to do for the camp. But I also don't think he's going to treat it [differently] as any other camp,” he noted later. “We're just going to play these two games, we're going to do what we've done in all the rest of the games and we're going to try to get the results that we want. And finally that will transfer into going into the World Cup.”