Brenden Aaronson fits seamlessly into U.S. national team after move to Salzburg

Brenden Aaronson has played only three games for the U.S. national team, all in the last 15 months, but he has seamlessly fit into the team.

On Thursday, he came off the bench to replace Christian Pulisic to start the second half and scored his second international goal within nine minutes of his entrance, finishing off a play that began when he flicked Yunus Musah's pass on to Josh Sargent, who roasted his defender and played the ball on a platter to Aaronson in front of the goal for the second goal in a 4-1 win.

The appearance came two months after he debuted for Austrian Bundesliga leader Red Bull Salzburg following his transfer from MLS, where he played two seasons for the Philadelphia Union and was the youngest player ever selected to the MLS Best XI with his 2020 selection. A year ago, Aaronson was with the U.S. U-23s for the aborted Olympic qualifying tournament in Guadalajara. Now, he's overgrown the U-23s, at least in terms of playing in qualifying.

U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter sees the improvement in the 20-year-old Aaronson's game since he joined Salzburg, coached by American Jesse Marsch.

"You see being with Jesse Marsch and Red Bull Salzburg has a positive effect on him," said Berhalter after the game. "He’s battling with everyone, he's going up against guys twice his size, and he doesn’t hesitate at all, and these are the things he's improved in."

Berhalter used Aaronson in midfield in his first two games, the first and last games of 2020 (1-0 over Costa Rica and 6-0 over El Salvador). The New Jersey product came on for Pulisic at left wing against Jamaica.

"When you win, you are gushing about everyone," said Berhalter, "but I really think he had a strong performance. He gave us verticality on the wing, he gave us calm and composure. He made some really good plays offensively, and his pressing was also very good."

Aaronson's new role at Salzburg only adds to his versatility and value to the national team.

“I’ve been playing on the left wing of late with Red Bull Salzburg," he said, "so it was a bit of a change coming back into the No. 10. I was learning new ways to get behind the backline and be a threat. Being a winger is something new for me, but Gregg helped get me ready for this moment. I feel comfortable with that position and you can always get better, which I will do. It was fun playing there today.”

Aaronson entered the national team program in 2013 at an under-14 boys camp (photo), where he played alongside such players as Tim Weah and Sargent, but he didn't represent the USA at the U-17 or U-20 World Cups. He had three goals and two assists in 28 games as a rookie with the Union in 2019 and four goals and seven assists in starting all 23 games during the shortened 2020 season. He already has scored three goals  in 14 games for Salzburg, which is seeking its eighth straight league title and seventh cup title in the last eight seasons.

Salzburg, which has developed a reputation as one of the best producers of young talent in Europe, developing such stars as Sadio Mane, Naby Keita and Dayot Upamecano, all discovered in France, and sending Norwegian Erling Haaland to Borussia Dortmund a year ago and Hungarian Dominik Szoboszlai to RB Leipzig in January. It finished the first stage of the 2020-21 Bundesliga season with a seven-point lead -- point totals will be halved and then carried over to the 10-game championship round -- and will play LASK Linz in the OFB Cup final on May 1.

In a pre-game media call, Aaronson said he couldn't have asked for a better start to his European pro career. He has quickly adapted to life in Salzburg, though he admitted it's a lot different than where he grew up in Medford, New Jersey, 20 miles from Philadelphia.

“It’s a very quiet city," Aaronson said. "It's like a family city. Everybody knows everybody." It's a beautiful city, set at the foot of the Alps. “I like going on walks, bike rides, all that kind of thing," he added. "So for me, I feel like it's the perfect city for myself to just kind of go and do those kinds of things."

Most Americans only know Salzburg as the location of “The Sound of Music." "The funny part is," said Aaronson, "no one knows that movie in Austria."

2 comments about "Brenden Aaronson fits seamlessly into U.S. national team after move to Salzburg".
  1. Kent James, March 27, 2021 at 1:53 a.m.

    He certainly played well against Jamaica.  This generation of players is quite strong.

  2. Wooden Ships replied, March 27, 2021 at 12:13 p.m.

    Our National team candidates are promising and Aaronson seems to have the "it" factor. He's on my roster for the important matches already. 

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