The big crowd at Talen Energy Stadium on Saturday night had plenty of reasons to cheer during the Union’s 3-1 win over D.C. United. But there was some extra oomph in the roar for Brenden Aaronson’s goal, which put the home team up 2-0 in just 16 minutes.
It was Aaronson’s first Union goal at Talen Energy Stadium, and just the second of his MLS career. The first was way back in March, when the 18-year-old Medford native exploded on to the scene by scoring in his debut at Atlanta United.
Fans have taken to calling Aaronson “the Medford Messi” as a tribute to his home town and his skills as a playmaker. He obviously isn’t that good yet, but he has grown up in the spotlight this year.
Part of that growth has been falling out of the starting lineup for three games. Once Jamiro Monteiro and Marco Fabián were finally healthy at the same time, Aaronson had to make way. He also had hit a bit of a rookie wall, as the grind of professional life started to take a bit of shine off his game.
After a cameo appearance last Saturday, Aaronson looked recharged against D.C. He repeatedly darted forward into good positions with and without the ball. He finished the night with 45 touches, a goal, a secondary assist (MLS counts them but the rest of the world doesn’t) and two shots (both on target), and completed 29 of 34 passes.
“I deserved to sit a few games,” he said with the sageness of someone far older than 18. “It was awesome for me to come back with a good mindset, stay positive and score that goal."
Union manager Jim Curtin had plenty of praise for Aaronson, but also laid a stick among the carrots.
“You guys see his quality on the ball - he rarely loses the ball in possession,” Curtin said. “The next element to add to his game if he wants to become a top player - and a player that plays in Europe - will be how he does 30 yards and in. Because we all see the talent that he has, but getting a shot off quick when you know centerbacks are coming to close you down is a whole other level in MLS compared to where an 18-year-old is coming from in our academy.”
Aaronson’s evolution in that final third of the field has been mental as much as physical. A good playmaker must also be a sharp thinker, and sometimes that means not thinking too much. He got it right on the goal, not taking too much time to look around once he latched on to Kacper Przybylko’s through ball.
"I turned, just drove with it, and was open, so I just tucked it in," he said.