Brenden Aaronson excelled in his first full MLS season with the Philadelphia Union in 2019, but the challenge to continue developing into a top midfielder remains very much alive this season.
Aaronson helped Jim Curtin’s side clinch a berth in the MLS is Back Tournament Round of 16 after Tuesday night’s 2-1 Group A triumph over Inter Miami. He played a major part in the opening goal from left back Kai Wagner and was credited with an assist in the eventual winner from Kacper Przybylko. It was a Man of the Match performance from the 19-year-old, who is striving for more success in 2020.
“For me, just getting repetition [has helped improve],” Aaronson said after Tuesday’s win. “When I got in those spots tonight, I was confident. Last year it was I’m a young kid, not many young kids are No. 10’s. So last year I wanted to learn and soak up anything I could [from the veterans]. I take it in and I try to get better from it. I think my patience of just working hard, working on the final third and getting in the gym, I think that’s really coming out now, so I’m really proud of myself.”
Aaronson’s strong work in possession gave the Union a 1-0 lead just five minutes into Tuesday’s match. After getting the better of Inter Miami left back Ben Sweat, the midfielder crossed into a dangerous area in the box. A deflection allowed the on-rushing Wagner to rifle home his first MLS goal and put Philly in front for a deserved lead.
As the match went on, Aaronson did everything he could to impress from the No. 10 position. He won seven individual duels, three fouls, completed two dribbles, and made four recoveries. His best bit of play came in the second half as the Union pushed for a winning goal. Aaronson led a counterattack from his side of the field and played in Przybylko with a threaded pass towards goal. The German did the rest, scoring his first goal of 2020 with a curling effort into the bottom corner.
After registering 30 first team appearances for the Union in 2019 and helping the club win its first-ever home playoff game, Aaronson has quickly become one of the top young faces in MLS. He’s made his debut for the U.S. Men’s National Team while also putting himself into consideration for the moved 2021 Tokyo Olympics, should the Americans qualify.
Curtin has enjoyed watching Aaronson’s improvement over the last year, but expects more work to be done by the Medford, New Jersey native to be a top all-around midfielder in the league.
“Overall we’ve challenged him from last season, to this preseason to his time with Gregg Berhalter and the [U.S. Men’s National Team], to now the quarantine period, to get better at making the final ball, to get more goal-dangerous,” Curtin said. “And he’s really taken the next step. Everybody sees his work rate and ability to run and cover ground and cover distance.”
“If he’s going to make it as a No. 10 at the very highest level, and that’s the ultimate goal for him, he’s going to do it by being a volume player, a player that’s on the ball all the time. And he might make a mistake 3-4 times but he’s coming again at full speed. So that’s something he’s worked hard on.”
“His final pass, his through balls, getting his shot off a little quicker in and around the box. He’s taken big strides, but the Philadelphia Union, we’re going to be greedy and push and demand more of him because he can play even better than he did tonight. We’re going to continue to push Brenden because we see how much talent he has.”
Aaronson and the Union’s quest for a first-ever title in MLS continues on July 20th as they look to finish atop Group A. The midfielder admitted that Tuesday’s win wasn’t pretty, but overall it was job well done with the team now sitting on six points from a possible six to start in Orlando.
“Yeah we know it wasn’t our best game, but it really shows the confidence in the group to grind out a result like tonight’s,” Aaronson said. “The calls were going our way and I’m so proud of Kacper for finishing his opportunity, he had some chances earlier in the match that didn’t go his way. We know we have to be better to go far in this tournament, but tonight we did what we needed to get the win.”