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In first seasons, Brenden Aaronson, Matt Freese have become more than just names on the roster

Aaronson and Freese were among the 22 players invited for the MLS Homegrown game against Chivas U20s on July 30

MLS: New England Revolution at Philadelphia Union Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

It used to be relatively easy to rattle off the names of all the players eligible for the annual MLS Homegrown game, but that’s becoming increasingly more difficult to do with so many players entering the league via the academy route.

Looking through the roster of 22 players for the 2019 edition announced by the league on Wednesday, there are a number of players who have yet to feature for their first team and others who have only gotten one or two cameo appearances this season.

That’s not the case for either of the Philadelphia Union invitees.

Brenden Aaronson is the only player on the roster who has logged more than 1,000 first team minutes this season. He leads the way with 1,138 minutes. Matt Freese is the only one of three goalkeepers who has featured in a league game and he’s ninth overall in minutes logged on the team with 437.

“A lot of times in the homegrown game it’s a guy who maybe is just on a roster but they’ve really contributed in a big way,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “I’m really proud of them and the seasons they’ve put together; Matt stepping in when Andre was injured and away national duty and Brenden emerging as a top young midfielder in our country.”

Aaronson and Freese are the seventh and eighth players selected from the Union to participate in the game. Anthony Fontana, Mark McKenzie, Matt Real and Auston Trusty were all part of it in 2018.

“To go there and play with a different group of guys is kind of hard because you don’t really play with them but going there and being represented as an MLS homegrown is awesome,” Aaronson said.

Freese was signed as a homegrown player in the off-season after making the decision to leave Harvard and turn pro. Coming into the season he was expected to get minutes with Bethlehem Steel but he’s also already gotten six first team games under his belt on a team that’s sitting in first place in the East.

“It means a ton that the coaching staff has confidence in me to give me a real part in the team,” Freese said.

This speaks to the philosophy of the team to not just sign homegrowns but play them when they’re ready.

“It’s not just growing our own players to force them onto the field when they’re not ready,” Freese said. “It’s things like they’re playing well on the field when they get there, then the accolades come and it speaks a lot to the club as a whole, the academy staff as well and the connection from the academy staff to the Steel to the first team.”

The MLS Homegrown game against Chivas de Guadalajara’s Under-20 team will be played at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando on July 30 at 5 p.m. It will be broadcast on TUDN and streamed live on Twitter.

All-Time Philadelphia Union at MLS Homegrown Game
2014: Zach Pfeffer
2015: Zach Pfeffer
2017: Derrick Jones, Auston Trusty
2018: Anthony Fontana, Mark McKenzie, Matt Real, Auston Trusty
2019: Brenden Aaronson, Matt Freese

2019 Roster

Goalkeepers: Matt Freese (Philadelphia Union), David Ochoa (Real Salt Lake), Mason Stajduhar (Orlando City SC)

Defenders: Aboubacar Keita (Columbus Crew), Daniel Kinumbe (Montreal Impact), Erik McCue (Houston Dynamo), Donovan Pines (D.C. United), Bryan Reynolds (FC Dallas), Sam Vines (Colorado Rapids)

Midfielders: Brenden Aaronson (Philadelphia Union), Cole Bassett (Colorado Rapids), Gianluca Busio (Sporting Kansas City), Edwin Cerrillo (FC Dallas), Mathieu Choiniere (Montreal Impact), Noble Okello (Toronto FC), Thomas Roberts (FC Dallas), Brandon Servania (FC Dallas)

Forwards: Theo Bair (Vancouver Whitecaps), Handwalla Bwana (Seattle Sounders), Omir Fernandez (New York Red Bulls), Benji Michel (Orlando City SC), Justin Rennicks (New England Revolution)

Head coach: Marcelo Neveleff, Orlando City SC academy director