After Alphonso Davies to Bayern Munich, 19-year-old Brenden Aaronson's transfer to RB Salzburg is the biggest move by an MLS Homegrown player to Europe.
The move, to take effect in January, became official on Friday. The deal is the
Philadelphia Union’s first outgoing European transfer and includes what it described as "a multi-million-dollar transfer fee, as well as additional performance-based bonuses, for the highest
ever transfer fee for a U.S.-based homegrown player."
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Salzburg will pay a $6 million transfer fee, plus up to $3 million in performance bonuses, citing sources who said the "bonuses shouldn’t be too hard achieve."
The move comes in Aaronson's second pro season. The South Jersey product started 25 of 34 MLS games in 2019 and has started all 18 games in 2020. With four goals and five assists this season, he has been a big reason why the Union is second in the overall MLS standings, trailing Toronto FC by just three points in the Supporters' Shield race.
"Brenden Aaronson is regarded as one of the biggest talents in MLS, with an extraordinary dynamism and presence on the pitch for a 19-year-old," said Salzburg porting director Christoph Freund. "Despite his young age he has an incredible ability to make the right decisions on the pitch. Brenden's style of football makes him a perfect fit for us, and we are already looking forward to having him.“
The Salzburg coach is American Jesse Marsch, who left MLS's New York Red Bulls a season before Aaronson's MLS debut but has followed the midfielder's progress.
"We’ve watched Brenden Aaronson for some time now and he’s gotten better with each game," said Marsch. "He understands our philosophy of soccer and he is clever on the ball. He does all the things that we like in a player. I think Brenden will adapt immediately to the way we play. We are really excited for him to be a member of our team. Brenden is going to love it here."
Aaronson, who turns 20 on Thursday, will join one of Europe's most ambitious small clubs. Backed by Austrian energy drink giant Red Bull, Salzburg has won seventh consecutive Austrian Bundesliga titles and six of the last seven Austrian Cup trophies.
Freund, Salzburg's sporting director since 2015, was responsible for signing Sadio Mane (now at Liverpool), Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund) and Dayot Upamecano (RB Leipizg).
“We have only pros, there are no cons in this transfer," said Union sporting director Ernst Tanner, who joined the Union in 2018 from Salzburg "That’s not always the fact.”
A mid-season transfer should not be a disruption for Aaronson. Salzburg sold Haaland to Borussia Dortmund, Takumi Minamino to Liverpool and Marin Pongracic to Wolfsburg in January and came back to win the Bundesliga title in Marsch's first season as head coach.
“Brenden will go into very good hands with Jesse Marsch," Union coach Jim Curtin said. "He’ll push Brenden and make him better at an exceptional club. This is just the beginning for Brenden.”