We’ve seen Brenden Aaronson do some remarkable things in his Union career, but his game Wednesday night was unlike any other.
An extended look at what made his night special starts this review of the Union’s 3-0 win over FC Cincinnati at Subaru Park.
He started the game on the right wing in a 4-2-3-1, a position he has rarely played and never started at in MLS. When Ilsinho replaced Anthony Fontana in the 53rd minute, Aaronson moved to the center of the three, the main playmaking role. When Warren Creavalle replaced Sergio Santos 20 minutes later, Aaronson moved to the left. And when Andrew Wooten replaced Alejandro Bedoya in the 85th, Aaronson moved to the back row of midfield to play next to Creavalle, while Jamiro Monteiro moved forward.
That’s a lot to ask from any player, even your best midfield prospect. And it says so much about Aaronson that not only was he good at all of it, no one batted an eye as he changed roles. He ended the night with 43 touches and a season-high five chances created, plus two shots, three dribbles past opponents, four tackles, one interception, one clearance, and 19-for-23 passing.
Aaronson had two highlight-reel moments. The first came in the 25th minute, when he wentup the middle to latch on to a great chip by Monteiro, then dribbled past two defenders, including a juke that caused Greg Garza to injure himself. He took too many touches after that but got the ball to Anthony Fontana before it was too late.
The second was the sprint down the left wing in the 73rd minute that set up Alejandro Bedoya’s goal. Aaronson started the play by picking the ball off Cincinnati’s Mathieu Deplagne, then passed to Wagner, and started upfield while his teammates settled possession. The ball went from Wagner to Kacper Przybylko to Monteiro, who played another fine ball over the top into Aaronson’s path. The Medford native took off from there.
“That was definitely a different game for me,” Aaronson said afterward. “I think I’m that kind of player where I can play everywhere, and I just want to make an impact wherever I play.”
Wherever is likely to include the Austrian Bundesliga in a few months, with the Union and Red Bull Salzburg heading toward a done deal. Salzburg manager Jesse Marsch was on SiriusXM FC on Thursday morning, and spoke about Aaronson, which he wouldn’t have been able to do if talks weren’t almost finished.
“We’ve been watching him for at least a year now and think that he can be a really good fit here," Marsch said. “We’re all really hopeful to put the final details on everything so that hopefully he can be a Red Bull Salzburg player here relatively soon.”
Also coming relatively soon: Aaronson’s 20th birthday, on Oct. 22. It’s OK to step back and remember that everything he’s done for the Union this season has been as a 19-year-old.
There was undoubtedly a plan for him to return to the field after a six-game absence, but this probably wasn’t how. Elliott was called into action at halftime after Jakob Glesnes got banged up, and Elliott didn’t hear manager Jim Curtin’s locker room speech because he was on the field getting ready.
If you had forgotten how good Elliott is, this was a reminder. In his 50 minutes on the field, he recorded 25 touches, two tackles, and two interceptions, completed 15 of 17 passes, created one chance, and took two shots, including his headed goal to finish the scoring.
No one needed reminding that he’s the Union’s No. 1 left back, especially after Matt Real’s struggles against Toronto. Wagner wasn’t great in his first game at full health in a while, recording just two interceptions, one clearance, and 25-for-33 passing. But he kept a sufficient lid on the Cincinnati player on his side of the field, Joe Gyau.
Yes, Gyau took three shots, one that forced a big save from Andre Blake. But all three were from the center of the park, and the two that didn’t trouble Blake were hit with more hope than precision.
The rest of Mbaizo’s game was a mixed bag. He recorded a team-high 72 touches, one tackle, two clearances, and two dribbles past opponents, won two aerial duels, and completed 31 of 42 passes but was 0-for-8 on crosses.