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Philadelphia Union rising star Brenden Aaronson set to make his mark on US men's national team

CARSON, Calif. — Brenden Aaronson almost has to pinch himself to make sure this is real.

In the past year, the 19-year-old has enjoyed a spectacular rise to prominence in the American game, following an impressive rookie campaign with the Philadelphia Union with three call-ups to the US men’s national team and the possibility of his International debut.

The attacking midfielder blessed with creativity and poise hopes to be on the field when the USMNT make their 2020 debut in an international friendly against Costa Rica Saturday (3:55 pm ET | ESPNews, UniMás, TUDN) at Dignity Health Sports Park. He's thankful just to be in position to do so and a tad incredulous things have played out as they have.

“If definitely came as a surprise,” Aaronson told Thursday morning. “But this has always been my goal, to come into the first year and try to play as much as I can.

“To be here, where I am today, is kind of crazy. It's all a dream come true, for sure.”

Aaronson is firmly in the mix for the 2020 Olympics, with Concacaf's qualifying tournament set for a March 20 start, and received his first full national team invitation in October, when he was in camp for the Concacaf Nations League games against Cuba and Canada, but did not play. He was in the November camp.

Aaronson, one of a dozen uncapped players on this USMNT roster, has feasted on the opportunities to learn and grow during Berhalter's second January camp, most of which was staged in Bradenton, Fla.

“It's been awesome, man,” Aaronson said. “Being with them for three weeks is really a dream come true. Just being able to learn all the principles of what we do attacking, I think that's huge for us. I think being a part of it for three weeks, you really get this learning curve that will help you for the future for this team.”

And Berhalter likes what he sees.

“He's good,” the U.S. coach said. “Just 19 years old, dynamic, good in positioning, good in body shape to turn. With him, attacking midfielders we measure by goals and assists. That's one thing we're focused on with him: Can he finish plays? Can he help put his teammates in position to score goals.”

Aaronson played at three spots in Philadelphia's midfield last season, and for all his creativity, there's some thought that his best position might be as a box-to-box midfielder.

“There's kind of been a debate about if I'm an 8 or a 10, but I don't really see it,” he said. “I'm an 8½, I guess you could say. Either or. It doesn't matter to me.”

Berhalter's system, an attacking plan that emphasizes possession, is different than the schemes the tactically savvy Aaronson has previously played under. He's feeling more comfortable with it every day.

After a big season with the Philadelphia Union, Brenden Aaronson is ready to make his mark on the US men's national team | USA Today Sports Images

“It definitely gets easier and easier every single time, I think,” Aaronson said. “The first time it was kind of hard for me, and then the second camp got easier, and then now the third camp, it's gotten way easier. I know what I'm doing now. I get on the field and I'm just playing my game.”

Berhalter is building a new U.S. team, following the failure to reach the 2018 World Cup, while emphasizing young talent. The Nations Cup final four is coming in June, the Olympics — a “focus” for the national team, Berhalter said, with 13 Olympic-eligible players in the camp — begin July 23, and qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar kicking off in September.

It's a big year, and Aaronson wants to be fully involved.

“I want to be part of the conversation for the men's national team,” he said. “That would be huge for me. I definitely want to come here and do my best always, and I want to push the team as much as I can.

“I [know I need to] play well with the club and keep making my mark [in U.S. camps. I think I'll have that opportunity as long as I'm] playing well, scoring goals, making assists, whatever I can to help the team win back at home and then just making my own mark here, for sure.”