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SSFC Spotlight: Paxten Aaronson primed for breakout season with Philadelphia Union

The midfielder impressed during 2021. 

New York Red Bulls v Philadelphia Union: Playoff - 2021 MLS Cup Photo by Ira L. Black - Corbis/Getty Images

The 2022 Major League Soccer season is set to begin this upcoming weekend, with all 28 clubs in action on Saturday and Sunday. A national team is boosted by a thriving domestic competition, providing opportunities for local talents to grow and serving as “a cornerstone” of the sport. Paxten Aaronson may be the next player to emerge from the Philadelphia Union organization which is becoming quite the development hub. The 18-year-old midfielder put in some impressive performances last year and showed hints of a high potential ability.

The brother of USMNT regular Brenden, Aaronson was born in Medford, New Jersey and played for Real Jersey FC. He joined the Philadelphia Union Academy Juniors program at eight years old. While attending YSC Academy, the “attacking talent” was considered a top prospect “with similar precision” and “in many ways a spitting image” of his elder sibling.

In July of 2020, the club promoted him to the reserve team. A month later, he was signed to a Homegrown contract set to begin the next season. “At 16 years old, Paxten already knows how to create opportunities for himself and his teammates on the pitch,” said Sporting Director Ernst Tanner. “He has impressed our technical staff with his ability to play a final ball, and he’s an intelligent player and a hard worker.”

Aaronson made 14 appearances in the USL Championship, impressing observers with his readiness for the professional game. His first goal came in a 2-1 loss to Atlanta United. During the offseason, Werder Bremen brought him in for a training stint, but an additional spell at Hoffenheim was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I thought I played well,” Aaronson told the Keeping It Simple podcast. “I was obviously a little nervous going into it just because I wanted to make an impact and I wanted to start off on the right foot, but the pace and like just everyone being so physical and stronger you definitely have to learn and adapt quickly. I thought it was good.”

Aaronson began his debut professional season on the outskirts of the squad, playing a mere two minutes until August, forced to “earn every opportunity through hard work in training.” He eventually received regular playing time, starting and scoring in an August 2-1 loss to the New England Revolution. In the 30th minute, the midfielder received a pass at the top of the box, evaded three defenders, and blasted his shot into the top corner, earning the league’s Goal of the Week honor.

His second goal came two weeks later, converting the match-winner in a 2-1 victory over FC Cincinnati with a calm header. The third came a few weeks later against the same opponent, taking a touch at the top of the box before beating the goalkeeper with a low, driven shot. Aaronson ended the season with 16 appearances across all competitions, gaining experience in a “hostile environment” during the CONCACAF Champions League. According to Tom Bogert of MLSSoccer.com, RB Leipzig and Red Bull Salzburg are following his progress “with interest.”

“Since the beginning of the year, I’ve obviously seen tremendous growth for myself on and off the field,” Aaronson told American Soccer Now in November. “And I think that just comes with being around older guys in the locker room, you have to mature more and just take more ownership and responsibility of yourself. And also things just like getting extra work in after training or getting extra gym work, being always hungry for more… And then as the minutes come, just being that No. 10 who creates of a lot of goal situations, getting double-digit goals, multiple assists, just being a creative threat that teams look at on the sheet and realize he can produce something.”

At the international level, Aaronson has received consistent call-ups to the United States program since the U-14 level. He was named to the squad that competed at last November’s Revelations Cup and appeared in the first two matches, against Brazil and Colombia. Under-20 manager Mikey Varas included him in a recent camp to prepare for the summer’s CONCACAF U-20 Championship, “which will serve as qualification to the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup and the 2024 Summer Olympics.”

Aaronson is primarily an attacking midfielder but has also lined up at striker and has “no problem at the eight.” Observers consider him “more of a number ten and more of a goal-scorer than [his brother].” He has “fantastic energy” and the “ability to unbalance his opponent off the dribble” with “tremendous” passing vision. Football Talent Scout praises his pace, passing, vision, creativity, and technique. As expected from a player in the Union organization, his defensive and pressure statistics are in the top tier for his position, working hard for the full 90 minutes.

“[He’s an] intelligent player, who finds the space well between the lines,” wrote Jacek Kulig. “[Aaronson is a] creative player with good technical ability, 1vs1 short-dribbling skills, close ball control, fast direction, shots in possession, and vision to make through passes to teammates… [He is a] player that always tries to find a vertical option in his game, so he is very capable of pushing his team forward to finishing positions… and displays a natural technique to make fast decisions in tight spaces.”

Each year, new prospects emerge from every league across the world, developing into the stars of tomorrow. At 18, Aaronson already has a season of first-team football and several goals under his belt, ready to take a big step forward. The Philadelphia Union recently moved a few veterans, opening space for younger members of the roster to take on bigger roles. The midfielder could improve on his performance from last season and begin attracting serious transfer interest, perhaps following in the footsteps of his brother or choosing to follow “a different path.”