It was a good day all around for the Aaronson family.
17-year-old Paxten Aaronson made his Philadelphia Union debut in their 3-0 home win over the Portland Timbers on Sunday night, just hours after former Philadelphia Union standout Brenden Aaronson — Paxten's older brother, now playing his club soccer with Red Bull Salzburg – stepped into the international spotlight, starting for the U.S. men's national team against Switzerland.
While the younger Aaronson didn't get much of a chance to make an impact on the match after entering in the 89th minute, he did initiate one encouraging attacking sequence in his abbreviated time on the field, and Curtin hinted that he'll have more chances to see the field once the Union resume MLS play in three weeks.
"We don't just hand them minutes," Curtin said of Aaronson and other young players on the squad. "They earn everything. Paxten has earned every opportunity that has come through his hard work and training. He's been excellent in practice, day in and day out. So now he gets rewarded."
Curtin noted that he's liked the hunger shown by Aaronson and Quinn Sullivan, another Union homegrown player who got a brief runout on Sunday night. "And I know they want more minutes, and they want to impact the game in a bigger way. I think that that is coming."
"But for these guys," he quickly cautioned, "there's a plan in place that we have with our staff, but it needs to be said, the minutes are earned on the training field. And those guys, both Quinn and Paxten, have really done a good job every day. So there's a little reward tonight. Again, I want the minutes to be longer because they are both special players."
Curtin also added that, though comparisons between the brothers might be inevitable, he doesn't want that to color people's views of Paxten as he continues to grow and develop as a player.
"He's in a good spot right now," Curtin pointed out. "Again, I know we all want it to happen instantly. And I've been trying to avoid the natural thing that everybody is going to do, and compare him to his brother, but he's his own person. He's his own player. He's a great kid, and he deserved tonight.
"Hopefully, it's a memorable special night for him and his family. It's just the beginning," predicting, "he's gonna leave a big impact on the Philadelphia Union and then even beyond that."
In a March 2021 article looking ahead to the start of the season, MLSSoccer.com's Tom Bogert quoted Curtin as saying, "With the strong pipeline of young players we have, we have a real belief we won’t miss a step moving forward. Others will step up in their absence, we’ll call on some guys to lead who had smaller roles last year, but we think we made some good improvements.”
That feeling continues, with Curtin acknowledging that the full schedule of summer matches, made more full by the Union's progression in Concacaf Champions League, will necessitate Aaronson and his academy compatriots to step up and contribute throughout the season.
"They're going to get minutes," Curtin asserted. "I think that this year has gone in a way that we've been able to get their introduction to the league and what the intensity of a Champions League game looks like, or a taste of what a game against an opponent like tonight with Portland, who is a very good team in our league. So they have the feeling for it, so that now as the season goes longer, and we get into the dog days of summer where we need them to feel comfortable as starters, we're going to call upon them because again, our schedule is very unique this year."
Curtin pointed out that after this three-week hiatus — in which they'll mix in a friendly with NYCFC to help stay sharp, they'll face Atlanta United on the road, host Columbus, and then travel to Chicago all in the span of eight days. "It's brutal right off the bat," he observed. "So we're gonna need everybody. It's important that they're getting a feel for it at an early age."
Though Curtin again emphasized the dangers of expecting too much too soon from players like Paxten Aaronson, he also noted that the Union coaching staff has been able to see him develop for a long time.
"While it was a very brief debut for Pax, I'm really proud of all the work that's led up to this debut, from when he was in our academy as a 10, 11, and 12-year-old, just getting better and better each year. It's a special night for him and for all of our homegrowns."