Brandon Aubrey made a name for himself at Notre Dame as a center back, but it was while playing as a reserve striker that he was able to win the biggest game of his career to date.
“That was a lot of fun, kind of a whirlwind year,” Aubrey said in an interview back in January after signing with the Bethlehem Steel. “I was still playing striker then. I got in for 10 minutes spelling Leon Brown.”
Brown had a first-half goal in the game that brought the Irish back from a one-goal deficit and West Chester-native Andrew O’Malley scored the game-winner in the 60th minute off a free kick from Harrison Shipp that brought the first national title in men’s soccer back to South Bend.
That was the last time the Texan native played as an attacker.
His move to the back line in his sophomore year ended up being a critical step in a career trajectory that has brought Aubrey back to the area, where his goal now is to again play at Talen Energy Stadium as a member of the Philadelphia Union.
“It’s nice to have a second chance at another club that really likes me,” Aubrey said. “I want to put my best foot forward and always be ready and push into the MLS with the Union if that’s a chance I’m given.”
One of the top seniors in college in 2016, Aubrey was drafted 21st overall in the SuperDraft by Toronto FC. While he became a mainstay on the Toronto FC II back line in the USL, he wasn’t able to parlay his time there with a move to the first team.
“It was a big step and a big challenge, one I might not have been entirely ready for,” he said of the transition from Notre Dame to the pro game north of the border. “I’m looking forward to taking another stab at it. This time I’m 100-percent ready.”
The 6-foot-3 center back was born in St. Louis but grew up in Texas, where he excelled through his youth career as an attacker, playing in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy for the Dallas Texans (yes, he is a Dallas Cowboys fan, but try not to hold that against him).
He said his experience playing on the other side of the ball has come in handy.
“It helps me to remember they’re really thinking about what you’re doing, so it’s like 3D chess,” he said. “For me, not having that elite pace, my biggest thing is trying not to drop too far and create that gap between midfield that the strikers love.”
Aubrey is expected to anchor the Steel back line this season, where he will likely pair with first-team center back Mark McKenzie. Other candidates to compete for minutes at center back will be rookie AJ Paterson, who has played center back and in central midfield in preseason, and academy defender Ben Ofeimu. First-team defenders Josh Yaro and Richie Marquez could also see time with the Steel on loan again this season.
“We expect him to anchor our defense because we’re a very young team and could get even younger this season so it’s very valuable to us to have young players that already have experience in the USL,” Burke said at the time of Aubrey’s signing.
Aubrey is ready to embrace the role.
“The biggest thing as a center back is communication and making sure you are on the same page as the guy next to you,” he said.
Bethlehem Steel open the 2018 season at home on Sunday at Goodman Stadium. Kick-off is scheduled for 2 p.m.