In January 2018, U.S. Soccer held its first Youth National Team summit camp, bringing together over 150 players who were eligible for the U-16 Boys’, U-17, U-18, U-19 and U-20 Men’s Youth National Teams to train side-by-side in Florida. One of the players getting his first look with an older YNT setting was Philadelphia Union Academy midfielder Brenden Aaronson.
The New Jersey-native, who had been part of the Union Academy since he was 10 years old, was still developing both physically and in his game. Only 17 years old at the time, Aaronson has put the pedal to the medal ever since.
By fall, after appearing in a number of games as an amateur for the club’s USL team, Bethlehem Steel, the Union signed Aaronson to an MLS contract for the 2019 season. When the Union lost their first two games of the year, the Academy product was handed his MLS debut on March 17 and promptly scored his first goal in a 1-1 tie at Atlanta.
By May 10, when Tab Ramos named his roster for the U-20 World Cup, the Union was 6-1-1 with the teenager in the starting XI.
Aaronson’ sample size was perhaps too small to break into a U-20 roster that had dominated the Concacaf Championship and then returned to the World Cup quarterfinals. And he was ok with that.
“I wasn’t in with the U-20s at the time, and that’s respectable,” Aaronson told ussoccer.com from Chula Vista, Calif. where he is one of 25 players on the U-23 Men’s National Team roster preparing for 2020 Olympic Qualifying. “So I wasn’t really worried about it, I was thinking about playing for Philadelphia and doing my best there.”
Aaronson has been a staple of the Eastern Conference leading Union since his debut, appearing in 24 of the team’s last 27 games. That consistency led to his first call up to an older Youth National Team camp when U-23 head coach Jason Kries brought him to a camp in Utah.
“I had been watching him since the beginning of the MLS season, he jumped off the page at me, and I wanted to give him an opportunity in June,” Kreis said. “I really was pleased with how he did then, and so he moves forward.”
“That was a pretty awesome experience,” Aaronson said of his first U-23 camp. “It kind of came out of nowhere. I think I was invited like 4-5 days before the start of camp, and I was super happy with myself and super proud that I got the call. And now I’m just happy to be part of the group again.”
Aaronson is one of four Philadelphia Union players taking part in Kreis’ third preparatory camp in California this week, along with defenders Mark McKenzie, Auston Trusty and goalkeeper Matt Freese. Two other Union teammates – Matt Real and Anthony Fontana – helped the U-20s qualify for the World Cup, with Real ultimately joining McKenzie in Poland.
Aaronson is the second youngest player at the September camp (FC Dallas starlet Jesus Ferreira is two months younger). Although age no longer means anything when you’ve established yourself in the pros. And when you’ve finally made a Youth National Team, bigger dreams become more realistic.
“All my life, I’ve wanted to play for the National Team, it’s a dream,” Aaronson said. “And just getting to play with the U-23s is another step closer.”