Brenden Aaronson’s dad remembers taking him to a tryout for the Philadelphia Union Academy at YSC Sports and wondering if anyone had even noticed his son amongst the hundreds of boys on the field that day.
“He wasn’t getting many touches so I was afraid no one saw what he was able to do,” said Rusty Aaronson. “But they kept having him come back so out of all those kids who were there they saw something they liked.”
Eight years after those first trips over the river from Medford, N.J., Brenden was putting pen to paper to sign his first professional contract last week, becoming the first South Jersey native to sign a homegrown deal with the club.
In the room with him was his new head coach, who happened to be on the academy staff all those years ago.
“You can remember when Brenden was 10 and instantly you could see him on the ball he had something special,” Jim Curtin told reporters after training on Monday.
From his time initially with the Union Juniors and with his hometown Medford SC and Real Jersey FC clubs through the Union Academy teams and the Bethlehem Steel FC, it’s that ability he showed at 10 and an immense amount of hard work and plenty of “It’s a marathon not a sprint” reminders that have carried him through to this point.
The 17-year-old, who turns 18 next month, will be officially added to the first team roster in 2019.
“It’s a proud moment, not just that it’s my son but it’s one of our boys,” said Rusty Aaronson, president of Real Jersey FC and a former Division 1 soccer player at Monmouth. “It’s special because Brenden now he’s still the same kid and kids in our club can visually see the pathway.”
JD Wagner, a defender on the Union U19 team, has been part of the journey since he first met Brenden at age seven. The two friends have shared in each other’s accomplishments on the pitch as they’ve progressed through Medford SC and Real Jersey FC to the academy. At countless Union games they’ve talked about how cool it would be to play at Talen Energy Stadium.
“Even when we were young I knew it was going to happen for him,” Wagner said. “He never put the ball down, he was always training and he was always the best player on the field when he played.”
Being a trailblazer for his New Jersey club as the first to go pro is something Brenden Aaronson takes seriously.
“I want to be a role model,” Aaronson told reporters after his first full day of training as a professional on Monday. “I just want to push every single day and see where it can go and have fun with it.”
One of those younger players aiming to follow his lead is his younger brother, Union U16 midfielder Paxten Aaronson.
“(Paxten) was probably six and was on the ball in between every little second he could get on our practice field just running with the ball and you could see something special there as well,” Curtin said, reminiscing about Brenden’s early days in the Union’s youth system, which was just getting its start back then.
While signing a contract with a team he’s had a relationship with for nearly half his life might seem like a no-brainer, the decision wasn’t an easy one. Aaronson had already verbally committed to Indiana University for 2019 and was starting to garner serious interest abroad.
“It was just a decision that came from the family,” Aaronson said.. “I wanted to stay home kind of get a couple few years under my belt and see how I can do here.”
Aaronson is the sixth player to travel the Union’s development pipeline from academy to Steel FC to a first team contract, joining Derrick Jones, Auston Trusty, Anthony Fontana, Mark McKenzie and Matt Real.
His signing, along with the Steel signing of 15-year-old Selmir Miscic from the academy last week, shows continued faith the organization is putting in its youth setup to no only fill out the first team roster, but also one day provide potential transfer fees for players they end up selling down the road.
“There’s a lot of teams sniffing around for (Brenden) at big clubs in Europe, same with Selmir,” Curtin said. “I think it’s important when as a club we invest so much in these young players — time, money — that we lock them down here.”
As an attacking midfielder, Aaronson gives the Union the possibility of an all-homegrown future midfield with him forming a central midfield partnership with Jones and Fontana.
“It’s no secret that there isn’t a long list of successful number 10s who are American in our league and this is a kid who has all the tools to do it,” Curtin said.
Until that day comes, Aaronson will be back getting minutes at Steel as they push for a playoff spot, knowing his debut at Talen Energy Stadium awaits some time in the not so distant future.