CHESTER, Pa. — The Philadelphia Union’s heralded youth academy continued to pay dividends on the field in 2019 with Brenden Aaronson’s breakout rookie season, but sporting director Ernst Tanner says the timing isn’t yet right for what would be the team’s first overseas transfer.
“We have our goals, we want to be competitive and competitive means we keep our best players and try to get the best roster possible,” Tanner said in a joint end-of-year press conference with head coach Jim Curtin on Thursday. “I don’t see us really in the position right now [of] selling players.”
Aaronson made 27 starts for the team during the 2019 campaign, contributing three goals and two assists while also earning his first senior call-up to the US national team. He finished second in MLS Rookie of the Year voting behind Colorado Rapids forward Andre Shinyashiki.
“It puts a smile on both our faces, I know that,” Curtin said of Aaronson’s season. “He’s had a really great season. For an 18-year-old it’s an extraordinary season.”
Tanner, who has an extensive resume working in youth development in his native Germany, said Aaronson “counts as one of the top talents” he’s seen in his career. But he and Curtin also acknowledged that the New Jersey native will need to increase his production as an attacking midfielder in year two.
“We’re going to work tirelessly for him to improve with that final pass, arranging his feet to finish plays off,” Curtin said. “It’s going to be a busy offseason, it’s going to be a really busy season coming up for him. He’s not sneaking up on anybody now. He doesn’t get to walk on the field as this babyfaced young kid that maybe people underestimate. I think everybody knows about him now.”
Center back Mark McKenzie, who will be joining Aaronson at a USMNT camp in Bradenton, Florida, that opens this weekend, had a challenging start to his 2019 with a preseason injury and an emergency appendectomy a month into the season, but it ended on a strong note with him starting six of the team’s last seven games and both Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs games.
“Often times how you finish is what people remember most and Mark finished as good as anybody,” Curtin said of the 20-year-old. “You talk about him dealing with some of the top strikers down the stretch, making it look easy. I said it to him in his end of the year meeting, he’s at his best when he’s so aggressive he looks like he’s playing at a different speed than everybody else, it looks almost in slow motion for him, he’s reading plays early, he’s confident with the ball, playing through the lines, advancing it on the dribble and he’s winning all his physical battles.”
Among other promising Union youngsters, center back Auston Trusty, 21, last saw the field at the end of July, but he still finished the season with 22 starts and is part of the US U-23 pool. Despite not getting a lot of first team minutes, Curtin has previously praised 20-year-old Homegrown midfielder Anthony Fontana and 20-year-old left back Matt Real for strides they’ve made in training. Furthermore, two Homegrowns – 17-year-old attacker Jack de Vries and 18-year-old midfielder Cole Turner – will be officially joining the first team roster in January.