Local / Union

Olivier Mbaizo, Brenden Aaronson headed to 2022 World Cup

Photo: Earl Gardner

Union players past and present will take the world stage later this month.

Current right back Olivier Mbaizo and former midfielder Brenden Aaronson were named to the 26-man squads for Cameroon and the United States, respectively, for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which will kick off later this month in Qatar.

Mbaizo, 25, will become the first active Union player to take part in a World Cup when he suits up for his native Cameroon. The defender joined Philadelphia in 2018 and became a regular starter in 2021, making 67 total appearances for the Blue and Gold.

He has 11 caps for the Indomitable Lions, who face a tough road to reach the knockout stage. Cameroon is drawn into Group G, along with Brazil, Switzerland, and Serbia.

Aaronson, 22, is the first Union Homegrown to appear in a World Cup. The Medford, N.J. native produced seven goals and four assists over 48 MLS appearances for the Union from 2019 to 2020, and was selected to the 2020 MLS Best XI following Philly’s Supporters’ Shield-winning campaign.

After that season, he made a $6 million move to Red Bull Salzburg in Austria, playing under manager Jesse Marsch. A successful season and a half in Austria led to a $30 million transfer this past summer to Leeds United in the English Premier League, again playing under Marsch. While Aaronson has had some moments so far with Leeds, his production isn’t yet there, notching just one goal and one assist over more than 1,100 minutes of action this season.

For the USMNT, Aaronson has accumulated 24 caps and scored six goals, playing a key role through the World Cup qualifying process. Manager Gregg Berhalter has deployed Aaronson as a winger and as a midfielder; that tactical flexibility will help with a tough slate of group-stage games against some of the world’s best — England, Wales, and Iran.

Not making the trip to Qatar for the U.S. is another Union alum, Mark McKenzie. After a tough start to his career in Europe, the 23-year-old center back from Bear, Del. has played an important role this season for Belgian side KRC Genk, who sit top of the table after 16 matches. McKenzie has 10 caps for the U.S. but hasn’t seemed to be high in Berhalter’s plans in 2022. Cameron Carter-Vickers, Aaron Long, Walker Zimmerman, and Tim Ream will be the center back options in Qatar.

Another local connection on the USMNT roster is, of course, Hershey native Christian Pulisic.

The 2022 World Cup kicks off in Qatar — a nation with an abhorrent record on human rights, including the treatment of migrant workers, women, and the LGBT community — on Sunday, November 20. The USMNT faces Wales on Monday, November 21, followed by England on Friday, November 25, and wrapping up the group against Iran on Tuesday, November 29. All of these matches are at 2 p.m. Eastern time.

As for Cameroon, you’ll have to wake up at 5 a.m. on Thanksgiving day if you want to see Mbaizo take on Switzerland in the Group G opener. The Indomitable Lions continue against Serbia on Monday, November 28 (5 a.m.) and conclude against Brazil on Friday, November 2 (2 p.m.)

Union players available for St. Louis in the Expansion Draft

The MLS offseason is underway, with tonight’s expansion draft for St. Louis City SC (7 p.m. Eastern) coming up quickly.

St. Louis will be able to select five players in the draft, with no more than one from each team.

The Union announced their protected list yesterday, leaving just six players unprotected: Abasa Aremeyaw, Alejandro Bedoya, Joe Bendik, Jesus Bueno, Chris Donovan and Gino Portella.

From that list, it’s hard to see St. Louis making any picks. Club captain Bedoya is obviously the big name, but the midfielder — who turns 36 next year — is more likely to retire than accept a move to an expansion club. Joe Bendik is a capable reserve goalkeeper, but would City really use a draft pick on a replacement-level keeper who played exactly zero MLS minutes in 2022? And the other four options are either unproven or unlikely to be anything more than depth pieces.

Expect a quiet night for the Union as the draft takes place.

5 Comments

  1. If, repeat if, the union are keeping as much of the 2022 squad together for 2023 as possible as Jim Curtin has commented, leaving Bedoya unprotected for St. Louis to select and the Union to buy back for a healthy sum of GAM could be a way for St. Louis to get additional GAM.
    .
    Tanner does not look within MLS outside his own homegrowns much, and they have only 4 internationals so using up GAM to protect both Burke and Odada in effect seems a good move, if that’s what it turns out to be.
    .
    GAM is useless outside MLS, and outside is where Tanner typically looks for new candidates.

  2. Not really a big Berhalter fan. I expect a quick WC exit for the USA. Hope I’m wrong.

  3. PaulContinuum22 says:

    No Union-ers picked in the expansion draft that ended a half hour ago.

    Nicholas Gioacchini, F, Orlando City SC
    Indiana Vassilev, M, Inter Miami
    Jonathan Bell, D, NE
    John Nelson, D, FC Cincinnati
    Jake LaCava, F, NYRB (traded to Inter Miami)

  4. Bedoya was a brilliant protection move.

    As one commentator said…
    “… St Louis better call Bedoya, ask him first”.

    And so it is done.

    Can’t wait to host MLS Cup 2023 in Chester.

    Happy Holidays to all!

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