The 19-year-old Homegrown attacker is one of the most highly-touted prospects in all of MLS, but with the long layoff from training and competitive matches, Aaronson found himself losing time on the field that is typically crucial for a young player's development. That meant doing whatever he could to not only stay fit and keep his skills sharp during the break, but staying mentally immersed in the game, and trying to use the experience to grow in spite of the circumstances.
Speaking with MLSsoccer.com via phone from Orlando, Aaronson said he's been working hard on exactly that, with his routine including rigorous training sessions with his dad and younger brother, Paxten, who is currently a member of the same Philadelphia youth academy that Aaronson once represented.
Aaronson said he and Paxten trained together daily for at least 1-2 hours a day, doing technical work, finishing and 1-v-1s, among other drills. He's also been consuming all the film he can with assistant coach Pat Noonan, watching himself with the Union, as well as old US men's national team games and clips of some of the game's best-ever center-mids, including Andres Iniesta and Xabi Alonso.
"It was a long, tough period of time because you're not around your teammates, you're not playing every day like you're used to during the season," Aaronson said. "It's tough mentally, but I'm fortunate enough to have a dad who's been training me my entire life and a brother who challenges me every day. I think that really prepared me for this upcoming tournament and for the rest of the season.
"I went over [the first two games] as much as I could to see what I could do better and even training, going over those clips, too. [The film study] and just staying mentally in the game was big."
Once the team got back to training together, Aaronson said it was evident that the players took their individual training seriously while quarantined, leaving him confident that the club will be able to pick up where they left off back in March. Philadelphia's last game before the hiatus was the most thrilling match of the season through Weeks 1 and 2 — an instant classic against LAFC at Banc of California Stadium that ended in a 3-3 draw, in which Aaronson scored one of his team's goals.
Ahead of the tournament in Orlando, Philadelphia have reason to feel good about their chances to make a run, coming off the club's first-ever playoff win in 2019. A first trophy has still eluded them, but that's something Aaronson said is fueling him as play resumes. A Union fan growing up whose family had season tickets to their first MLS season, the chance to be a part of the team that reaches that milestone isn't lost on him.
"It would be huge because I've been a fan since I was 10-11 years old," Aaronson said. "That would easily be a dream of mine to bring a trophy back to the club since it hasn't been done before. I think even last year, winning our first playoff game, we just want more than that, so bringing back a trophy would be huge for us."
For Philly, it all starts with a bout against Eastern Conference foe NYCFC on July 9 (9 am ET | ESPN; TSN in Canada).
"Everybody knows NYCFC is a really, really good team with a lot of really, really good players that have really punched their spot into this league," Aaronson said of the matchup. "They're all around a really good team that is really hard to play against. I think that coming into the game, we just have to show them that we're going to work harder than them in every aspect of the game and we're just going to give them a fight. I'd take us over them every single time we play them, but it's going to be a tough game, and I'm excited for it."
In terms of individual goals for however much soccer he gets to play in 2020, Aaronson said he's setting high benchmarks. If all goes to plan, he'll be looking at the statsheet at the end of the season with double-digit goals and assists. If he can attain or approach that, it would be as sure a sign yet that Aaronson is on his way to making good on the lofty potential he's already displayed.
"I think [a 10-10 season] that's definitely my goal by the end of the season," he said. "I know it's going to be a little bit harder since there's not as many games. But I think for the tournament, coming back and playing regular games again, I think it's just showing well and helping my team as best as I can, scoring goals, getting assists and just doing my part always. I'm all about the team, so that's my goal for the tournament, is to win it."