ATLANTA — Brenden Aaronson is no longer a Homegrown prospect Philadelphia Union fans have only heard about. The 18-year-old academy product scored a goal against defending MLS Cup champions Atlanta United while making his senior team debut in front of more than 40,000 fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Sunday night.
And he did all of this playing at the No. 10 spot, a role of huge importance on both sides of the ball.
“I’m a perfectionist, so I like to do everything perfect,” Aaronson told MLSsoccer.com after the match. “Going out there, I expected a lot from myself, but sometimes before games I don’t like to think about it as much.”
Aaronson got the call from coach Jim Curtin to play at the top of a midfield diamond, taking the place of the suspended Marco Fabian.
“For any young kid, you have to believe in them, you have to put them on the field, otherwise you’ll never know,” Curtin said. “The goal that he scored aside, I thought he was really solid, he found good pockets and turned. I couldn’t be prouder of him and with the work our academy’s done developing him.”
Curtin said he and his coaching staff had conversations about starting Aaronson on the opening weekend against Toronto as a No. 8, but stressed that Aaronson’s most natural spot is at the No. 10.
“You saw today he can turn in a really tight spot, he can get out of trouble,” Curtin said. “He is kind of a modern-day No.10 in that he’ll run on defense, too and press the ball and create turnovers. He’s willing to do the dirty running.”
During his 74 minutes on the field in Atlanta, Aaronson created significant chances; the standout being a through ball to Fafa Picault that should have resulted in the Union’s opening goal if it weren’t for Miles Robinson’s last-ditch, goal-line clearance.
“I’m a No. 10 that likes to run a lot. I run a lot,” Aaronson said. “But I think I still have a lot to learn to be that No. 10. I’m just going to keep working hard to see what I can do. It’s definitely about being more creative in that final third and I feel like I can find that final pass pretty well.”
Curtin said he wanted to pump the brakes on overhyping Aaronson based on one start, but he could not hide his optimism for the Medford, New Jersey-born midfielder.
“If we’re doing our job here correctly, he has the ability to play anywhere,” Curtin said.
The self-proclaimed perfectionist said there’s plenty to work on following his first start.
“I learned so many things out there,” Aaronson said. “Definitely my movement off the ball could be a little bit better, I could have found some better pockets. I thought I found some good spots, and defensively, as a team, we were very good tonight and we limited them to at least seven or eight chances and it’s Atlanta, so it’s unbelievable.”
The improvements will be made over time, on the training ground and with more time on the field with the Union. But the memories of his first MLS start will last a lifetime.
“For me, my dream was always to become a pro,” Aaronson said. “This is a dream-and-a half, to be honest.”