Brenden Aaronson introduced himself to MLS last week with a well-taken finish in front of a huge crowd at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. But his journey to that point started several years ago, when he first joined the Philadelphia Union academy.
After climbing the organization’s ladder, with first stops in the Development Academy and USL, the attacking midfielder looks to maintain the momentum from Sunday’s start and his first MLS goal.
What path led Aaronson to this point? Get to know how the South Jersey native climbed the organization’s ladder, and what might lie ahead.
Need To Know
Last summer it appeared that Aaronson would head off to Indiana University in the fall of 2019 to play college soccer. The New Jersey native was always a highly rated prospect in the Union academy, earning minutes with Bethlehem Steel in 2017 and 2018. Eventually, he elected to go the pro route, signing a Homegrown deal last September.
Stops at Medford SC and Real Jersey FC preceded Aaronson joining the Union’s academy. He was actually part of the Union Juniors program before the launch of their Under-14 team in 2013-14. Since then, he’s been a longtime fixture of the Philly academy, playing at just about every age level the organization has fielded. He was a standout at the 2017 Generation adidas Cup for the Union, scoring a memorable goal during the finals in Texas.
Born in 2000, Aaronson was part of the cycle for the US U-17 national team for the 2017 World Cup. Never a fixture in the group, he missed out on the qualifying rosters and World Cup squad for that year. However, he’s continued to earn call-ups since then, including a nod to the U-19 MNT in January.
Why He's Special
The thought of seeing a classic, between-the-lines, US-eligible No. 10 excel in MLS may seem far-fetched. While Aaronson certainly has a long way to go before can live up to that billing, that’s the kind of player he is – he’s looking to make the killer pass through a backline, slip teammates in behind and make things happen in the final third. Along with that, he’s shown a willingness to put in the hard work and defend without the ball that suggests that Aaronson could live up to that lofty potential.
There’s little doubt that playing as an attacking midfielder is the position Aaronson is best suited for in the long run. Depending on the style, he could function in a more box-to-box role, with the main desire to put him in spots where he will see the ball and have options to distribute forward.
Areas of Improvement
Aaronson in USL action | Courtesy of Bethlehem Steel FC
It seems crass to boil down a soccer player to physical traits, though Aaronson’s development could impact how he’s able to cope against bigger, stronger defenders in MLS. While he’s gifted enough to be able to find a way around them, putting on more muscle wouldn’t hurt as he looks to stake a claim in central midfield.
“Aaronson is a prototypical No. 10 with a pass-first mindset and a sharp attention to detail and perfectionist approach to the game. He doesn't take plays off and excels at transitioning out of pressure into the attack. You saw an example of this in the Atlanta game where he turns the ball over, but gets it right back and in a split second collects himself to make a pass forward and start the counter in Atlanta's final third. On the ball in possession, he's shifty and quick enough on his feet to change directions and quickly deliver a pass to play out of pressure.”
Two Americans come to mind that Aaronson could be similar to as his career continues: Lee Nguyen and Sacha Kljestan. The pair are part facilitator, part provider, like Aaronson, seeking to find a pass that could spring a teammate in on goal.