Turning Pro: Medford’s Aaronson thrilled to join Union

Brenden Aaronson, 17, decided to turn down his previous commitment to Indiana University in order to continue his soccer career at home as a pro with the Philadelphia Union

Medford native Brenden Aaronson, 17, signs a professional contract with the Philadelphia Union with Union coach Jim Curtin (left) and Union technical director Chris Albright. (Photo provided by Philadelphia Union)

Imagine you’re 17 years old and all of your friends are getting their first month of their senior year of high school underway while you’re putting your signature on a professional contract.

When your best friends are returning from the holiday break in January, your contract kicks in. When they’re helping their families dig out of snow in February, you’re in training camp in Florida with your new co-workers. When they’re counting down the days until spring break, you’re making your debut with the Philadelphia Union.

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If you’re Brenden Aaronson, you can stop imagining. All of this became the 17-year-old’s new reality last month, when he made the decision to turn down his commitment to the University of Indiana and begin playing professional soccer with Philadelphia’s Major League Soccer team.

Even for Aaronson, though, it’s a lot to wrap your head around when you take a step back and think about it in that context.

“It honestly took me a little bit, I was in shock for at least a week,” Aaronson said about 2.5 weeks after signing a three-year deal with the Union. “It all kind of settled in two or three days ago. It wasn’t that long ago when it settled in, which is kind of crazy.”

The Medford teenager paused.

“It still really hasn’t settled in, to be honest,” he said.

Aaronson is the Union’s first Homegrown player from New Jersey. Per the MLS’ Homegrown provision, a club may sign a player to a contract without subjecting him to the draft “if the player has been a member of a club’s youth academy for at least one year and has met the necessary training and retention requirements.”

So Aaronson isn’t making the jump from high school soccer to the pros, though. He played in 14 games this season with the Bethlehem Steel, an affiliate team with the Philadelphia Union. And he’s been groomed for a while by his dad, Rusty Aaronson, who runs Real New Jersey Football Club, a premier, academy-level youth program based in Medford.

Aaronson hasn’t even been with his friends at Shawnee High School since his freshman year — he’s done his schooling at YSC Academy, a private high school in Wayne, Pa., that doubles as a development camp for young players under contracts with the Philadelphia Union. He even went to training camp with the Union last spring.

Medford native Brenden Aaronson in action with the Bethlehem Steel. (Photo provided by Aaronson family)

So he’s been focused on a soccer career for a while. Still, when the reality sets in after touching pen to paper, when you’re posing with the Union’s coach for a photo opportunity on the day you sign your contract, and you have people scheduling marketing photo sessions and interviews with one media outlet after another, it can be easy to feel your head begin to spin.

Fortunately that’s one of the center midfielder’s other strong traits on and off the soccer field: He stays humble and grounded no matter the situation.

“He’s always been that way,” Rusty Aaronson said, “and that’s what I’m most proud of.”

Aaronson is obviously a highly skilled player on the pitch, but it’s not as if everything has come easily for him. Like deciding to choose pro soccer over college.

But he decided to follow his heart, despite being excited to go to Indiana initially.

“A lot of Americans go to college before turning pro, so it was a really tough decision, making it with my family, they wanted me to go to college but they also wanted what was best for me,” he said. “College is also just a great experience, so it was such a tough decision. But for me, I just wanted to keep following my dream of playing soccer, so I just thought it was the best decision.”

He also realizes there will be challenges as an 18-year-old rookie (his birthday is later this month) in the MLS next spring and summer. He’s listed at 5–10 but there will surely be some players in the league who regularly outweigh him by 30 or 40 pounds.

“I went to preseason with the first team last February so I had a feel for it, but yeah, it’s really hard for an undersized kid to go against these men,” Aaronson admitted. “But you figure it out. It’s just that soccer mentality, you figure it out.”

Aaronson isn’t likely to be the last member of his family to make headlines for his soccer prowess. His younger brother, Paxten, is 15 years old and already enrolled at YSC Academy, and his 12-year-old sister, Jaden, plays the game, too. (His mother, Janell is the only one without a soccer background — she rode horses).

Medford native Brenden Aaronson, 17, poses with his family after signing a professional contract with the Philadelphia Union last month. (Photo provided by Philadelphia Union)

Family obviously played a part in all of the adult decisions the 17-year-old Aaronson has had to make lately. In addition to going to college, he could have signed with a number of teams overseas.

As with college, which will be paid for by the Union thanks to his contract, playing in Europe can wait.

“I think the decision between Europe and here is I have such a loving group of people here that I can go to if I need help along this journey,” he said. “I think that was one of the big things for me. But that’s my dream, to go play in Europe. I’m going to do as much as I can here to get over there.”

Ryan is a veteran journalist of 20 years. He’s worked at the Courier-Post, Philadelphia Daily News, Delaware County Daily Times, primarily as a sportswriter, and is currently a sports editor at Newspaper Media Group and an adjunct journalism instructor at Rowan University.
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