Commentary

Good things happen in Philadelphia

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Brenden Aaronson is going to Austria. It’s a bittersweet sentence to write, and it’s a bittersweet sentence to read.

Last week news broke that the Union standout youth talent Brenden Aaronson would be heading to Austria to play for Red Bull Salzburg of the Austrian Bundesliga at the end of the 2020 MLS Season. We’ve known that Aaronson would likely be leaping to Europe since the beginning of the season, but that still doesn’t soften the blow of knowing that next season will be without the Medford Messi. 

In all of my time watching the Union, this truly feels like the first transfer that’s been a bit emotional for the fanbase. Sure, seeing Le Toux go to the Red Bulls was frustrating, and seeing the pure strength of Conor Casey leave for Columbus was less than fun, but frankly, they don’t compare.

We all got to watch Aaronson grow up in front of us. He made his first start with the Union last season and instantly became a fan favorite. There was something incredibly captivating about watching a kid mix it up with some of the best in the league, all during the best Union season in history. Not only was the team fun, but it had fun personalities, and a kid that we knew was destined to be somebody.

It’s like sending your kid to college (I assume). You know they can’t stay at home; know that they’ve got to stretch their legs in a bigger, wider world and that ultimately, it’ll allow them to reach new heights and truly achieve their goals, but it doesn’t mean that it won’t be sad watching them drive away from home for the first time.

But with Brenden Aaronson diving into the wide world of European football very shortly, the feeling of being excited about youth talent is far from over.

Enter Paxten Aaronson. 

Paxten Aaronson is, as you either know or have guessed, Brenden Aaronson’s slightly younger brother. At the age of 17, Paxten is currently playing for Union II of the USL, and recently signed a Homegrown contract to play for the Union first team, effective January 1st, 2021. Since the U2’s return to play in USL, Paxten has become a staple of the side. He’s notched 13 games and 844 minutes so far this season, with one goal to his name (two depending on how you score the Olympico from Wednesday’s match). He’s become a clear standout on the pitch, and despite garnering a lot of attention due to his brother, he’s genuinely earned his time on the field, along with his homegrown contract for the first team. 

While Brendan plays as a bit of a hybrid number 10 and 8 on the pitch, both creating chances and capitalizing on them himself, Paxten plays much more like a traditional number 10, with an eye for goal. He’s incredibly exciting to watch, with a knack for finding his way through defensive lines with either a sharp 1-2 or his innate skill on the ball. The way Paxten plays almost makes it look like he can see the whole field at once, seemingly peaking at the Fifa tactical cam before making a perfectly calculated run. At a mere 17 years of age, there’s no promise that he can immediately play with such ease and precision at the MLS level, but if and when he can, it’ll be something to behold. That being said, remembering he’s not his brother and is only 17 is essential.

While as Union fans, we were, and still are incredibly forgiving and supportive of Brenden at almost every turn, we aren’t usually like this. As Philly fans and fans passionate about our teams, we always expect the most from those who play for us. We can be notoriously brutal when someone lets us down; just look at Eagles fans’ treatment of Carson Wentz, who was a prince who could do no wrong less than two years ago. We live and die by our teams, and expect our athletes to do the same. I know that I’ve personally booed the Union more than I can count when they didn’t play to the standard I knew they could.

So how does this apply to Paxten? While many people are comparing him to his brother and will continue to do so, we have to remember he is his own, independent person who next year will likely be playing his first-ever MLS games. He isn’t merely a continuation of his brother, and we can’t expect him to be. If he makes a poor touch or stupid decision, we’ve got to treat him with the same support we gave Brenden. I see too quickly a scenario where with all of the hype, the familial ties, and the promise of a new, better Aaronson, fans could turn if the performance isn’t immediately there. While the promise of a new young goal scorer is fantastic, we’ve got to give him the time and support he needs to get there. He’s an incredibly promising teenager deserving of all of the same support, encouragement, and forgiveness we gave his brother. He’s his own person, and we should allow him to be that person. 

While I advise you all to support and encourage Paxten regardless of his play, I can’t exactly advise the same when it comes to Carson Wentz. The Eagles have managed to tie a football game before winning one, the world right now is a scary place. We’re living in unprecedented times that seem destined to carry on forever. There’s a global pandemic, American politics have devolved into screaming matches, and the Eagles are playing on national T.V. sunday. Really now, we’ve been through enough. Despite this however, for the first time in what seems like the history of the club, we can proudly say “At least we have the Union.” We’ve successfully developed a prospect to the point of selling him to Europe, and the academy seems filled to the bursting point with potential future standouts. In our last game, we thrashed global superstar Higuain and Inter Miami. We’re second in the whole league, and for the first time, have the potential to win the Supporters Shield. With the departure of Brenden and Paxten’s arrival, it’s a new era of Philadelphia Union soccer.

Despite what we’ve been told, maybe good things happen in Philadelphia.

5 Comments

  1. Amazing thing is Brendan might have a chance of playing in the Champions League, with Salzburg getting drawn with Atleti and Bayern this morning. What an amazing journey — from youth league games in Medford to a CL group stage tie with the current champions of Europe. I know. Chickens ain’t hatched yet. But it’s exciting to think about. I’m absolutely thrilled for the kid and love that Ernst was able to put this team in the position to make deals like this happen. That is how the game grows here — get that pipeline working.

  2. Great article. FYI, it’s spelled “Paxten”…hence the Pax10 branding.

  3. Everybody counting their Paxten chickens well before they hatch.

  4. Puyol el Campio says:

    Funny, as I had just remarked how last week, there appeared to be little or no emotional attachment to losing such an awesome young player in the comments. I am in favor of the move long term, but bummed to lose such a great young player short term. Thomas, I’m with you on this. But I guess some people view this as more of a business, and just care about the team raking in big transfer fees. Which again, I know is the right move, it just seems a little transactional and cold to not even recognize that this kid made the last two years way better as a fan of the U. Great article, thanks!

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