Brenden Aaronson, the fastest rising USMNT star, is Chelsea boss and scores first EPL goal
Brenden Aaronson’s meteoric rise from Medford, New Jersey, to the top of global football reached new heights on Sunday with Leeds United’s smashing win over Chelsea – and a milestone for Americans in the sport.
It wasn’t just the goal, Aaronson’s first in the Premier League and Leeds’ first in a 3-0 win.
It wasn’t just spin that dazzled Kalidou Koulibaly, one of the most accomplished defenders in the world.
Everything Aaronson and Leeds did embodied what he and American men’s football have become.
In the first 45 minutes alone, the 21-year-old sped through Elland Road from his central attacking midfield position. He snapped in tackles. He broke lines with clever moves. He ran in from behind Chelsea’s overwhelmed defense.
He popped up on right wing and left wing, middle third and even defensive third and everywhere in between.
He wasn’t, and still is, flawless on the ball. In fact, he gave it away just seconds before tapping it into an empty net with a sloppy pass.
But Aaronson’s most coveted ability, despite the Attacker label, is actually his Frontfoot Defense. He’s one of the world’s best pressers. He’s relentless off the ball, “an annoying mosquito, like a fly that you can’t get out of your face,” US teammate Weston McKennie once said.
His reaction to losing the ball in the 33rd minute was and always is to sprint for it. He knocked down a Chelsea player, then a second, and finally goalkeeper Edouard Mendy.
Because he did it, he had the freedom and audacity to score his first EPL goal with a no-look finish.
He also had a US team-mate, Tyler Adams, who joined the Chelsea midfielders and supported him throughout the afternoon.
He has an American manager, Jesse Marsch, who empowers him and the rest of Leeds United to swarm opponents no matter how big or wealthy those opponents are.
Marsch celebrated Aaronson’s goal with his own sprint across the touchline, a vault and a punch. He celebrated the third goal – scored by England winger Jack Harrison, a product of an American high school and college and MLS – with a spike from his water bottle. He spent a few minutes after the final whistle turning his jacket and pounding on his chest as Leeds supporters chanted his name.
Christian Pulisic got into the fray from Chelsea’s substitutes’ bench in the second half and perhaps the most amazing aspect of that amazing day was that of the five American football products to attend a Premier League game, the country’s most famous star, Christian Pulisic, was the least discussed of the five.
As Marsch made the rounds after the game, praising the players and greeting the fans, Aaronson, Adams and Pulisic chatted briefly on the field.
Adams then wrapped himself in an American flag and paraded across the field.
Aaronson told NBC Sports in a post-game interview, “It shows people around the world that Americans can play football, too.”
The scary thing — or rather, the scary good thing — is that Aaronson struggled to even crack the 11th-seeded US men’s national team. Head coach Gregg Berhalter has pulled out the wings for Pulisic, 23, and Lille striker Tim Weah, 22. He has favored McKennie, a 23-year-old Juventus regular, as the most advanced midfielder. There is no obvious place for Aaronson on the team.
And yet he might be the best American player in the world right now.
He is definitely a sign of the times, a representative of the most promising generation of male players America has ever produced and a proof of concept for the academies that produced them. Just five years ago he was educated and educated by the Philadelphia Union Academy and its affiliated specialized prep school.
He’s her postman now. But he is sure that he will not be the last.
“I can tell there’s a lot more talent coming out of the Philadelphia Union academy,” he assured reporters earlier this year. “I think that’s only just beginning” — in Philadelphia and, he clarified, “across the country” where “academies just keep getting better.”
Next in what will soon be a long line could be his brother Paxten, 18, who some in Philadelphia believe could be as good as or better than Brenden.
And Brenden is still only 21 years old. Three years ago he was a youthful MLS rookie. Only last year he moved to Red Bull Salzburg in Austria. Just a few months ago he was in agony watching Leeds try to stay in the Premier League, his move contingent on them avoiding relegation.
They did, and now he’s the second most expensive US player of all time and perhaps the most exciting. He sends the Premier League stadiums into exuberant celebrations. He’s a state-of-the-art player on a state-of-the-art team that flies all sorts of flags for Americans in the sport. And there’s no telling how good he could get.