A perfect Union: Medford teen Aaronson eager for MLS’s return

It’s been 20 months since Medford’s Brenden Aaronson chose professional soccer with his hometown team over a collegiate career. Still a teenager and last year’s runner-up for Rookie of the Year in the MLS, Aaronson is eager for his second season to resume.

How was your 2019? Medford’s Brenden Aaronson scored in his first start with the Philadelphia Union and debuted with the U.S. Men’s national team, too. The 19-year-old has bigger goals when play resumes in 2020. (Courtesy the Philadelphia Union)

The decision to forgo a collegiate career and play professional soccer has worked out quite well for Medford native Brenden Aaronson.

Aaronson, who signed a pro contract with the Philadelphia Union a month before his 18th birthday in the fall of 2018, was the runner-up for Major League Soccer’s Rookie of the Year Award after his inaugural season in the MLS last summer. He also got his first opportunity with the United States mens’ national team during the offseason, making an appearance in a friendly against Costa Rica in February.

But this spring, like everyone else, Aaronson is in a holding pattern. He’s at home with his family in Medford, waiting out the coronavirus pandemic and eager for his second season with his hometown MLS team. 

“It’s been long,” Aaronson said of the seven-week break since play was suspended in mid-March. “I’ve just been staying with family, spending as much time as I can with my family before the season starts up again. It’s been a crazy year so far.”

With some time on his hands in between workouts, Aaronson reflected on his first year of professional soccer with South Jersey Sports Weekly.

SJSW: How are you staying sharp, soccer-wise?

Aaronson: (The Union) sends us little workout programs. And I’m fortunate to have a gym in my basement where I can work out and do some pullups and pushups, staying strong and fit. I’ve been running outside and playing with my brother and my dad, which I used to do all the time when I was little. So just going back to my roots, when I was playing club soccer with my dad (Rusty). So it’s pretty cool to be back with them doing stuff, being with my brother (Paxten) and training with him. So I’ve been trying to stay as sharp as I can.

SJSW: Is there any single moment that sticks out from the last year?

Aaronson: There’s a lot of things that stick out to me, but I’d have to say the first game that I scored against Atlanta (on March 17, 2019), that was my first start of the year, and really my first time playing and I scored, so I was really proud of myself. And (also) getting to play with the men’s national team for the first time, getting my first start with the national team. I’ve been dreaming since I was a young kid of representing my country, so, getting to do that at 19 years old was huge for me.

SJSW: Is there anything you took away from your first season with the Union or learned about yourself?

Aaronson: I think staying positive throughout the entire year and looking to get better every single day. I remember after training I had to work really, really hard at what I needed to get good at: My turns, my finishing. I think just working extra, wanting to learn more, and just doing whatever you can to be a better soccer player. I think I learned a lot about that.

A year ago, he was the runner-up for Major League Soccer’s Rookie of the Year award as an 18-year-old. Now Brenden Aaronson, a forward with the Philadelphia Union, is at home with his family in Medford waiting for the MLS’s to resume following the coronavirus pandemic. (Courtesy the Philadelphia Union)

SJSW: And what makes you think you can take the next step this season?

Aaronson: Last year I didn’t score as many goals as I would have liked, I was missing some goals around the box. This next year I’m looking to score more goals and add more assists to my game. I (just) want to get really good inside that final third. That’s what I’ve been working on. [Editor’s note: Aaronson already has one goal this season, despite the season being suspended after two games.]

SJSW: How is your brother Paxten’s game coming along?

Aaronson: He’s a really, really good player. I love watching him play. A lot of people say we’re comparable, but I think we’re a little bit different. But he’s an amazing player and I can’t wait to watch him play and see how his path goes. [Editor’s note: Paxten Aaronson, 16, will be a high school junior next year at YSC Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania. Their younger sister, Jaden, could be a player to watch at Shawnee High School in two years.]

SJSW: Meanwhile you’re not even 20 yet, which feels crazy. If you could pick one career goal, what would it be?

Aaronson: For me it’s probably to play in Europe. That’s where all the big players play and that’s where a lot of the huge competition is. So just to be able to play in Europe and be a part of that, that would be huge. Obviously right now all my focus is on the Union, but going to Europe in the future would be huge. I love how Europe is. And also to get my college degree finished at some point, too.

SJSW: There are a lot of kids out there that have dreams of becoming pro athletes. And here you are and you’ve done it in a short amount of time, which I know is a testament to a lot of hard work. But if there was one piece of advice you could give to kids or teenagers who have their own goals of becoming pro athletes, what would it be?

Aaronson: That’s a good question. I just think that at a young age I had to give up stuff and it wasn’t easy. Growing up I had to miss out on a lot of friends get-togethers, missing out on the high school experience and stuff like that. So it’s not an easy road. You have to work really, really hard. I was fortunate to get the things that I got. I think, for kids, working hard is the biggest thing. Being able to let go of other things and focus on what your goal is and to continue to work toward that.

Aaronson, who doesn’t turn 20 until October, is looking forward to adding more goal scoring to his game in his second season with the Union. He scored one goal in the first two games of the 2020 season in March before play was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Courtesy the Philadelphia Union)