Union stadium

Brenden Aaronson’s youth and upbringing

A few months ago, my little brother Buğra, who goes by Bugs to most, told me about a soccer player from Medford, New Jersey who had made it to the Philadelphia Union’s first team; a player who goes by the name of Brenden Aaronson. Bugs plays for Real Jersey FC’s U-16 team, a club based in Medford. Real is the same club that Aaronson had played for while coming up in the ranks as a soccer player.

For Aaronson, the development he received at Real Jersey FC put him, along with other players on his team, nearly out of reach when it came to other players and teams at and around his age. “I just think [it was] the level and the coaching that I had at a young age, with my dad and one of my friends’ dad and just having other coaches come in and coach us sometimes. Yeah, I just think the team that we had at a very young age kind of set us apart from other teams and helped us get to the level we’re at today.”

Brenden Aaronson credits his father, Rusty Aaronson, who runs Real Jersey, for laying out the blueprint which allowed Aaronson and his teammates to reach new heights when it came to their careers. “My dad runs the club. Me, my brother, and three other kids from Real came to the Union Academy. I think there were 7-8 guys that came to the Union Academy from Real at one point, which was a pretty insane number of kids.”

Balancing Soccer and School

But it wasn’t always “smooth sailing” for Aaronson, especially during his only year at Shawnee High School. While a freshman at Shawnee, Aaronson had to split his time in the classroom and on the field, which wasn’t always the ideal scenario. “I played in the developmental academy for the Philadelphia Union and I was at Shawnee for a year, but I was traveling a lot that year. I should be excused for going away or something like that. But they did not count it as that, and I would have to come back in the summertime for classes, which sucked. That just didn’t go well with the Shawnee situation.”

In the end, Brenden Aaronson had to make a choice on whether he wanted to continue his academics at Shawnee or play at YSC Academy, “the Union-affiliated private high school for soccer players.” Aaronson made the choice that best fit his ambitions on making it to the professional level. “I ended up going to YSC Academy, which was the best decision I’ve ever made, and I ended up going there for three years.”

For Aaronson, balancing the school work and his time on the soccer pitch came to fruition, even when he began to play for the Bethlehem Steel, the USL affiliate for the Union. “[My] junior and senior year, I started playing for the Steel, so it was a lot more straining and not getting as much school hours in school, but I used to have to come into school earlier and get school done during that time.”

Straight to the Pros

When the time came to commit to a college, Brenden Aaronson had his sights set on Indiana University- Bloomington, the flagship university in Indiana and their largest institution for higher education. The Hoosiers are one of the most successful soccer collegiate programs in the country, having won the NCAA tournament eight times, the second-most in Division I soccer (only behind the St. Louis University Billikens at 10). Their last title came in 2012. For the Hoosiers to dominate as they have speaks volumes. It has not been easy, seeing as they compete in the Big Ten, a major sports conferences in Division I sports.

For Aaronson wanting to be a part of a major program made sense. Ultimately, Aaronson opted out on playing for I.U. but said that the memories and the experiences he would have gained there would have been great nonetheless. “I would say that I.U. would have been a great experience for me. Everybody that I hear talking about it, it is a great program, and everybody loves it there.”

Though playing Division I soccer would not have hindered Aaronson from playing professional soccer, he knew his dream was to one day play professional soccer. He felt as though the brink of making it onto the first team for Union was near, so he took his chances. “But, I had a really good chance of playing for the first team. So, I decided to take that chance and it is been my dream my entire life to play professional soccer, and so I took the chance and I ran with it.”

Union’s First Team

And well, there he was. Brenden Aaronson had made it onto the final roster for the Philadelphia Union for the 2019 season. From the start, Aaronson made his presence known in the league by registering three goals and two assists, placing him second in the Rookie of the Year race for the 2019 campaign. Out of the five finalists, Aaronson was the youngest.

Veteran Leadership

Being a young player in a professional league could prove to be daunting for many. The schedule, style of play, speed of the game, and travel could make out to be a tough adjustment for any young player. But for Aaronson, veteran leadership was present in the locker room, which proved to be a good training ground thanks to former Union player and now FC Cincinnati midfielder, Haris Medunjanin. Medunjanin was vocal when it came to motivation and advice for Aaronson. “He was huge, I think, last year with how I did because he was always there to, I mean, whenever, I always liked to ask him questions. He was open to ask questions, so he was there for me. And he pushed me every single day in training. He wanted to get the best out of me.”

Though Medunjanin left the Union over the transfer window, Brenden Aaronson hopes he can still apply his advice to his training and game without him being there. Nonetheless, Aaronson misses his mentor. “Haris Medunjanin was a huge part of my first year and I really miss him.” But Aaronson knows he is in good hands with other veterans and leaders on the team, like Alejandro Bedoya. “All the other older guys are great role models for me. Like Alejandro Bedoya, all these guys, like you can just ask them anything and they are so easy to say how you did or what you need to work on.”

History Made

The Union made history during the 2019 campaign as they were able to advance to the Conference Semifinals in the Eastern Conference, ultimately losing to Atlanta United FC. The city got behind the Union, and though they could not go all the way, Brenden Aaronson was happy knowing that he was a part of it. Being a lifelong supporter, Aaronson dreamed of being on the pitch one day to help the Union achieve remarkable feats. “I’ve been going to games since 2010, so I’ve been watching every single season and to see how have they done and to be a part of the team that made the best run in history was crazy and emotional for me. I was really happy about that.”

US Men’s National Team

The deep playoff run by the Union wasn’t the only feat that Brenden Aaronson could add to his resume. The Medford native gained his first international cap for the U.S. men’s national team. Though Aaronson did receive his first senior call-up during the CONCACAF Nations League in October, he did not play in the matches against Cuba and Canada. But Aaronson would get his chance a few months later in February against Costa Rico in a friendly match at the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California after the men’s January camp.

Aaronson remarked on gaining his first cap for his country and how even though it was difficult, the hard work paid off in the end. “I just worked as hard as I could at the camp, and it was a really long camp, a grueling camp. I worked as hard as I could and got my chance and played against Costa Rica.” The U.S. went on to beat Costa Rico 1-0 thanks Ulysses Llanez’s goal at the 50th minute.

A Golden Generation?

The United States men’s national team could be on the verge of a golden generation. With the amount of talent playing in the best American league in soccer, including Brenden Aaronson, the future seems bright for the red, white, and blue.

Many others are playing in top foreign leagues. Christian Pulisic made a $73 million transfer move to the Chelsea F.C of the English Premier League. Timothy Weah, son of 1996 Ballon d’Or winner George Weah, plays for Lille in the Ligue 1, the top-tier league in domestic French soccer. Josh Sargent, who spent one season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, plays for Werder Bremen in the German Bundesliga, the top-tier league in domestic German soccer.

Prepping for the Cup

The World Cup in 2026 will be played in North America with a majority of the games being played in the United States. With the perks of playing on your home continent, along with this potential golden generation of players, the men’s team could make a deep and memorable run in the 2026 World Cup. But Aaronson remarked on how players need to be levelheaded and that from that time to now, players must focus on their self-development as professionals.

“Of course, I think that there’s a lot of talent in the U.S. that is coming up. It’s starting to look really good for the U.S. I mean, it is tough to say that, like, you just don’t want to say that we’re going to be really good or something like that. It is all about the team clicking, and if everyone keeps going about their path of going straight up and doing very well.” Nevertheless, Aaronson believes that the U.S. has a shot at being a formidable opponent on the world stage. “It’s hard to say right now, but I think we good shot in the future of being really good.”

Two Local Studs

While on the topic of the national team, I could not help but ask about Brenden Aaronson’s thoughts on Christian Pulisic, dubbed the first potential world-class American player. Aaronson had nothing but praise for the Hershey, Pennsylvania native on his style of play. “He’s an unbelievable player. I have seen him in person, and you can tell how much quality he has. It is crazy to see, like, he just glides on the ball. It’s so easy for him just to do really anything; he’s a great player.”

The Medford native and I also touched upon how he feels playing in front of hometown fans every time he takes the field for the Union. Medford is only half an hour outside of Philadelphia. Aaronson said he loves the fact that he can play in front of family and friends and that every home game feels like a homecoming for him. “It’s good, it’s good. I get to go to every single game and my family is there, my girlfriend’s there, and my friends are when they get back from college. It’s great getting to play in front of them.”

Who’s the world’s best?

The discussion and debate on which player is the best is a frequent topic not just in soccer, but in all of sports. And for the past 10-15 years, the debate when talking about the best player in the world has consistently come down to two players, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Renaldo.

Messi gained success on the club level with FC Barcelona from the get-go, as he and Barca won three Champion Leagues. Messi won three FIFA Ballon d’Or awards before he turned 25. Ronaldo was behind Messi but gained the lead when it came to Champion League titles, as he and Real Madrid went on a three-peat from 2015-2018 and is only one FIFA Ballon d’Or/Ballon d’Or shy of Lionel Messi.

Even though the numbers are close, Brenden Aaronson confidently says the Argentine comes out on top when asked who the best player in the world is. “Lionel Messi for sure; there is not even a doubt in my mind. He has been the best in the world since he has been playing. I always have fights with people about this. Messi’s been the best.”

When it comes to the younger players taking over the soccer scene, there are many. Some have yet unreached potential, while others have hit the ground running when it comes to their performances on the pitch. For Aaronson, the talent in 21-year old Frenchman Kylian Mbappe cannot go unnoticed when asked who the best young player in the world is. “I would probably say Mbappe right now. I mean, you can tell just how amazing he is and what kind of future he is going to have; he’s got tremendous talent and it’s crazy to watch him play.”

What does the future hold for Brenden Aaronson?

Could Brenden Aaronson become a household name in the MLS for years to come? If he continues to do well, could he potentially transfer to a club in Europe to further develop as a player? Maybe the U.S. can make a deep run in 2026 with the help of him and other up-and-coming American internationals?

For now, these questions remain answered. So much so, that no one knows how well he could do in the 2020 campaign for the Union. Aaronson did start the season well for the Union, scoring in the 3-3 thriller against Los Angeles FC in LA. Furthermore, the future is bright for the Medford native. But as reporters, writers, journalists, and as fans, we will have to wait and see exactly what the future holds for Brenden Aaronson.