September 22, 2018
By: Gwen Begley
Could you imagine being 17 years-old and signing a contract to play a professional sport? Well, that was the reality for Philadelphia Union Academy product Brenden Aaronson recently. The Medford, NJ native started training at the Academy in King of Prussia when he was just 10 years old. He spent the next few years commuting an hour and half to the YSC training complex after school, making for some pretty long and exhausting days.

In a decision made with his family, the then freshman at Shawnee High School decided to leave his normal every-day teenage life, for one destined to end in success. Aaronson enrolled to the Philadelphia Union academy full-time at the start of what would be his sophomore year. 

As expected, he didn’t last too long playing for the academy before getting a call from the USL’s Bethlehem Steel FC. Aaronson made his debut last season and has since appeared in 18 matches, nine of which he earned starts. That’s 783 minutes of experience against professionals, all while considered an “amateur”. Steel FC head coach Brendan Burke has seen first hand how much the 17-yeard has matured on and off the field. 

“His physicality has increased and his foot speed has increased just a little bit, which are important signs of growth. You see him move differently in between the lines and pick his spots to get into physical confrontations now, so he is constantly evolving which is exciting for the rest of us.”

His efforts on the field were rewarded on July 29th when he scored his first USL goal and recorded his first USL assist, all in route to a four-nothing win over Atlanta United II. The league took notice as well, naming him to the USL team of the week. That made him the first active member of the Philadelphia Union Academy to earn the honors. 

His time with Bethlehem hasn’t be easy sailing though, as transition into USL play has had its challenges. That physical play that coach Burke is so fond of got him into a bit of trouble back on April 15th, when the collided with a player on FC Cincinnati and broke his collarbone. Luckily, he’s got teammates like captain James Chambers to learn from when it comes to picking your battles.

“I think he took a bang from that guy from Cincinnati which was a bad tackle – I have an issue with him about that – but that’s a different matter. I spoke to Brenden about it and obviously he needed to be careful a little bit. He’s going to be a little bit worried and cautious at first but he goes into challenges with people with no problem, so there is issue with that. If he could be a little bit smarter upstairs in his head, which is what we said to him when I first saw him, then he will be fine. Now its just a matter of finding holes and spaces that people can’t come and live with him in.”  

Head coach Brendan Burke thinks that may be all part of the process.

“I think he might have tested the waters physically a little too much in running into one of the biggest guys in the league early on, but that’s an important learning moment. Learning how to navigate a field where there are guys now that are 6’5”, 215 pounds on the field is an important piece of his development.”

Aaronson’s development has caught the eye of those with the Philadelphia Union. While the 17- year-old committed to play soccer at Indiana University at the start of the fall 2019 season, the big club had other plans for the midfielder. The Philadelphia Union has recently announced that they have signed Aaronson to professional contract, becoming a Homegrown Player. He becomes the sixth current Union Homegrown as well as the ninth all-time. He joins the likes of Anthony Fontana, Derrick Jones, Mark Mckenzie, Matt Real and Auston Trusty as Homegrown Players on the Union’s active roster. 

Don’t worry though, he will still be a threat in the USL for the remainder of the 2018 season, as the signing is for him to officially join the Union for the 2019 Major Soccer League season. That means more time to develop and learn from his teammates, and head coach Brendan Burke.

“We need to find new and creative ways to challenge him. Today on the field I asked him if he watched the Nashville vs. Tampa game last night. He is on the first team roster and their is a lot of media about him right now so the important part is that he is watching his counterparts at the professional level. Right now his games are coming at the USL level, so he needs to be watching Lebo Moloto play for Nashville, and the areas of the field those guys are doing damage and where they are having success. He needs to identify where he can feed off of that and pick those same spots for himself.”

Exciting things are happening in the Philadelphia Union organization right now, and they are only going to get better.