Philadelphia Union homegrown Paxten Aaronson "is going to be really special"

With big brother Brenden coming off another start with the US men's national team in a critical Concacaf World Cup Qualifying win over Jamaica, Paxten Aaronson stepped into the spotlight in a big way for the Philadelphia Union during a 2-1 win over FC Cincinnati Saturday night at TQL Stadium.

The 18-year-old homegrown midfielder scored the second goal of his young MLS career, a 56th-minute winner that helped shorthanded Philadelphia claim three huge points in their Audi MLS Cup Playoffs push.

Aaronson also helped set up Kacper Przybylko's 10th goal of the season, the opening tally in first-half stoppage time as Philadelphia moved into sole possession of third place in the Eastern Conference, just two points behind second-place Nashville SC.

“Paxten is going to be really special,” Philadelphia coach Jim Curtin said after the match. "Obviously there's good genetics in the family for sure, but his ability to be comfortable in a big game on the road in a hostile environment and want the ball and want to be in part of the big moment and still be running and pressing in the 90th minute to help his team out to get a victory, he's way beyond his years and his experience. He's been incredible this season.”

Aaronson got on the end of a Nathan Harriel cross at the far post and powered his header in from the edge of the six-yard box to double the Union’s lead.

His first MLS goal was a left-footed banger against against the New England Revolution on August 8.

“Probably nobody in the world had Paxten Aaronson getting a header to win the game, but that's what we needed tonight. It was unique,” Curtin said. "I think we changed formation four different times, but no matter what was thrown at our guys from the technical staff to whatever Cincinnati threw at us, they stepped up and rose to the occasion and picked up a very big three points. It gives us a little bit of space with that being our game in hand now we've created a little bit of separation, but still lots to play for. No question, now we want to push for a home game at Subaru Park.”

With six regular starters competing with their respective national teams during the October international window, Curtin had to rely on his homegrown players to navigate a tricky road match Saturday.

Matt Freese, Harriel and Jack McGlynn all earned starts against FC Cincinnati, while Quinn Sullivan and Matt Real contributed off the bench.

While Curtin understands the homegrown narrative – the desire to get young players on the field as early as possible – going around MLS, he stressee the importance of moving forward at a slow pace.

But he said the time is coming soon for the “training wheels to come off,” especially in Aaronson's case.

“I think at some point we had six homegrowns out on the field tonight, all contributing in a huge way,” Curtin said. "There’s something to be said about kids that kind of grow up in our academy and play together, that when they're on the field they don't want to let each other down. There's something powerful with that. Again, credit to the leadership from the older guys [as well].”