After preparing to come on before a goal changed the strategy in week 1 and watching from the bench again in week two, a red card suspension for Marco Fabián could clear the way not only for a debut but for a first MLS start for 18-year-old Philadelphia Union homegrown midfielder Brenden Aaronson.
“I’m not scare to start him,” head coach Jim Curtin said during his weekly press conference on Wednesday. “You can talk about how tough it is to go to Atlanta, the environment, 60,000 fans, but once the whistle blows it’s still soccer and he’s comfortable and he’s shown that he can handle pressure, can handle tight spaces, can handle all the things you ask of a top MLS player.”
Curtin said he wouldn’t reveal who is starter is just yet — and mentioned that he has options — but also alluded to the Medford native when first asked about who would take over for Fabián as the No. 10.
“We have a good idea who that is and it’s a player that’s been deserving of minutes in the past couple weeks and one that we tried to get into games also,” Curtin said. “We still have a decision to make, there’s a couple different options we could go with. We could tweak things a little bit formation-wise but I thought we were pretty stable as a team disrupting Kansas City.”
Recent loan signing Jamiro Monteiro hasn’t had his international paperwork clear for him to be eligible for Sunday, but Curtin said it’s still still a possibility it gets done in time for him to make his Union debut. If it does, he’d be a candidate to slot into the fourth midfield spot Ilsinho occupied in week one and Warren Creavalle in week two.
Ilsinho, who left a scrimmage against Bethlehem Steel in training early on Wednesday with an injury, would be another option for No. 10 along with 19-year-old Anthony Fontana, who showed well for Bethlehem Steel FC as the left-sided attacking midfielder in a 4-2-2-2 formation last weekend. Fontana scored in his MLS debut in the first game of the season as the starting No. 10 when he was still only 18 and a couple months shy of his high school graduation.
Based on Curtin’s high praise for Aaronson, it’s likely his debut will come in Atlanta one way or another. When he does see the field, he’ll be the first player from Medford, N.J. to earn minutes in an MLS game since May 9, 2012 when Stephen King subbed on in the 83rd minute for D.C. United of a 3-1 win over Toronto FC.
“Brenden’s been excellent for us in every preseason match that he’s gotten opportunities, he’s been good in training every day,” Curtin said. “He continues to be, no secret, one of the options that we’re talking about when we talk about a No. 10, he’s played on the wing for us as well. So however it shakes out, Brenden is certainly high in our thoughts for the weekend and that’s not because he’s a nice story or a young player coming through, it’s because he’s deserving of being available for selection and a guy who is right there in terms of getting a shot with minutes.”
Aaronson was added to the first team roster in January after signing a pro contract last September and finishing out the season in good form with Steel FC. He joined the Union Academy full-time in 2013 from South Jersey club Real Jersey FC after participating in the Union Juniors program.