The favorable dilemma of Aaronson and McKenzie

Photo: Earl Gardner

With fame comes a price. It’s an adage as old as time, and it’s quickly becoming a reality for the Philadelphia Union. For the first time in their history, the Philadelphia Union look poised to make a significant splash in the transfer market within the next few years.

It’s strange to think about the Union doing, well, anything in the transfer market. In their 11 years of existence, their “big” signings have been underwhelming. While clubs across the league have signed exciting South American youth talent and veteran Europeans alike, the Union have never quite found their footing when it comes to making a major signing. Freddy Adu was signed in 2011 and scored seven goals in 35 matches before leaving after less than two full seasons. Marco Fabián never truly found his footing in Philly and failed to leave much of an impact in his one season (despite his playoff game-winner for which I’ll always be grateful). Arguably the most successful major signing the Union have made is captain Alejandro Bedoya. Even then, he wasn’t quite the major star many routinely hope for when it comes time to talk about transfer rumors. 

While the Union have rarely been buyers during transfer windows, they’ve sold even less. Across their 11 years, the Union have only ever sold six players conventionally, the most expensive of which was Auston Trusty for a meager $667,000 before the 2020 season. In the world of football, that’s almost nothing. While MLS rarely sees the mind-boggling transfer numbers of European football, the Union still stand out as one of the least ambitious clubs when it comes to bringing in big-name talent or flipping players for profit.

However, that’s all poised to change thanks to Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie. 

Rumors have surfaced over the last few weeks that one of the main reasons for the MLS is Back tournament was to showcase the talent in the American league to potential European buyers. If this was the intention, then it certainly worked for the Union. Since the tournament kicked off, there have been rumblings that major European clubs are interested in a few of our standout youth talents—namely Aaronson and McKenzie. While Aaronson’s interest comes from a few different Bundesliga sides, McKenzie has been linked explicitly to Celtic in the Scottish Premiership. It’s hard to imagine the Union is keen on getting rid of either player, but if the right number comes around, it may be a hard offer to turn down.

According to, McKenzie is valued at $495,000, while Aaronson sits at a cool $1.4 million. With both players under contract until at least 2022, it’s probable that their values will continue to rise. That puts the Union in an exciting situation. It’s likely that in 2022 (or earlier), the Union could find themselves caught between retaining two standout homegrown stars or transferring them for a significant influx of cash. While keeping them seems like the obvious answer right now, the payday for the two could prove tempting. In addition to the obvious profit, sending two young players to major European clubs could establish Philadelphia as a viable destination for athletes hoping to make it to Europe one day. 

With the Union sitting on two potential cash cows, and MLS on the verge of a significant new media deal, it seems the Union could find themselves with a surplus of cash for the first time in history. While it’s easy to get excited about this and speculate about the various transfer rumors that always seem to spin out of control (Ibrahimovic discovery rights anyone?), it’s important to value this for what it is: The first real sign that the Union are a viable destination. Despite a slew of Mexican internationals joining the LA clubs in recent years, and an assortment of older Europeans finding their way into clubs from NYC FC to Orlando, it’s youth that will be the future of any strong squad. Just look at Atlanta. They took home MLS Cup in their second season anchored by a core of young South Americans that few had known prior. If the Union establish themselves as a viable route to Europe, they can hope to attract a similar influx of young talented players, something that could prove incredibly fruitful. 

Whatever the Union decide to do, one thing is obvious. For the first time in their history, the Union find themselves in an overwhelmingly positive situation when it comes to transfers. Selling either player results in an influx of cash that can be used to bolster the roster’s weaker spots, while retaining either (or both) provides established playmakers capable of leading the club to new heights. Of course, there’s the chance that both flounder, their values decline, and we never find ourselves in this dream dilemma of profit or skill, but hey, let’s not think about that right now.


  1. I look forward to see who steps up after they are both sold and who plays.

    For CB I think the obvious answer is the starting pair will be Elliot and Glesnes, but beyond that we need to reload a bit on the youth. Ofeimu is still there in Union 2, and I think he has played fine, but if he was a real prospect I wonder why he hasn’t been signed to the first team yet.

    For CAM, clearly De Vries is the next one in the pipeline, but he probably wouldn’t start right after Aaronson leaves. He may though. Either way we seem to be set at CAM with De Vries and then in the medium term future, Aaronson 2.0 coming up.

  2. I think Aaronson stays on at least through this season to continue development and maximize his value. Then it will depend, of course, on how well he continues developing through this season, and how high the offers are.

    When we signed Glesnes, I was quite perplexed. Didn’t we already have a starting CB tandem? Why were we paying a fair amount for a third CB? The answer is now obvious: McKenzie could be sold this year.

  3. HardPilltoSwallow says:

    Sell them both. We are a small time club with a small ownership mentality. We are a feeder club, not a finisher club. Let these boys flap their wings and fly. Excited to watch them both flourish outside of Chester. I really like to see Aaronson in the Netherlands. I personally think McKenzie’s ceiling is higher. Though he’s not the biggest CB he has some really thoughtful insights in his game. Reads it better than possibly any CB we’ve ever had. Elliot can ping ’em better, no doubt, but McKenzie does the work (or the thinking) to avoid the long ball.

    • It’s the whole point of an Academy in my opinion. Union have been woeful in developing talented players that have value elsewhere. It’s a blight and needs remedying.
      … wouldn’t it be nice if Mark and Brendan got to decide for themselves if they left or not.

  4. Tim Jones says:

    2/3rds of million for a reserve CB is acceptable return on investment.
    And the club has been losing a few milliions of dollars a year on its academy since the academy began.
    Jay sugarcane is learning soccer. But Richie Graham has a vision for it. His family’s investment principles do not include splashing Noah’s floods of dollars. But he got Ernst Tanner to come, to bring German best practices.
    German best practices are starting to alter the structure of player development in this country. How the alterations will play out remains unclear.

    • SilverRey says:

      The more I see the things that Richie Graham is involved in the more I am impressed.
      For Soccer Ventures is going to be a game changer for a lot of people. I’m just psyched it’s bringing back The Best Soccer Show (yes I know JD & the Rod are still going strong, but it’s nice to see them get back to their TBSS roots – and see that FSV values that). Also psyched to see what a McKenzie and Heath Pierce pod sounds like!
      …I mean, McKenzie can still podcast from Europe, right?

  5. It won’t be a dilemma. If the prices are right, the Union will sell, no matter what their value is to the team. The whole point of the Academy isn’t so much to be a feeder for the Union, but to develop players to be sold.

  6. John Powers says:

    Pretty exciting stuff. I worked closely with Aaronson’s dad even before ehe was born. We’d be in Argentina and the locals would ask for pictures with him. They thought he was former US Star John Harkes who played in Argentina for a bit. I used to laugh at that and give him shit about it (in a good natured way). To see that people will be stopping his son on streets around the world to take pictures for who he is, is so cool.. Just for the record, his father is a faith based, morally driven man who I’m sure instilled the same values in his son. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

  7. I remember the talk on this very site about the academy being able to create world class players! This is what we have been hoping for! Ok…next man up!!

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