The unfortunate ankle injury to star Macro Fabian creates yet another opportunity for Medford, NJ native and former Union Academy member Brenden Aaronson to shine at the attacking midfielder position Saturday afternoon.
The Philadelphia Union begin a very significant stretch of their 2019 season Saturday afternoon at 1PM on PHL17 when Montreal Impact visit Talen Energy Stadium for what promises to be an exciting match-up. From now until May 29th, Head Coach Jim Curtin’s club will enjoy six home matches out of their next eight. Saturday afternoon’s match requires a strong performance in hopes of collecting points in the table over the next month.
“We come back home now…” said Curtin Wednesday as the club returns to action following a disappointing west coast road trip. “We have a very organized team in Montreal [Impact] coming in. They’ve done well in their road games early on in the season. A team that’s confident and a team that’s coming into our building where we know we have to limit chances which is something we’ve done very well as a team.”
The overall history between the two clubs is heavily slated in Montreal’s favor. However, the 2019 Union club may be the most cohesive they’ve been in a few years now. Over the last five years, the Union have yet to beat Montreal in Chester. It’s a fact that looms large over Philadelphia and Curtin was asked about it Wednesday. “They have a European approach and I mean that in a complimentary way,” he said when asked what makes Montreal a persistent difficult test. “They sit back and are organized well. Overall the conclusiveness in their group over their last three games has been difficult to breakdown. And they can hit you quickly on the break.”
Over their last three, Montreal haven’t surrendered a goal. Their stingy defense will be a tough test for a Union offense and their struggles to perform consistently so far this season.
The offense Saturday will rely on a young play-maker in Brenden Aaronson, who will start at the 10 position in place of the injured Marco Fabian. Fabian suffered an ankle sprain just 15 minutes into Philadelphia’s last match at Los Angeles Galaxy which ended 2-0 in LA’s favor.
“It’s a shame that Marco got hurt because he’s an unbelievable player and he helps us so much,” said Aaronson via phone call with PSN Thursday afternoon. “But I’m just going to try and do my best and to try and keep doing what I have been doing.”
What Aaronson has been doing is quite impressive. The 18-year old was sprinting around the pitch last year with Bethlehem Steel FC in the USL and now he’s featured in his hometown team’s starting XI consistently. “With Steel [FC], the coaches there helped me so much – I can’t say enough,” said Aaronson. “Brendan Burke and [Stephan] Hogan played a huge role in my development. And I think fighting for that XI helped me realize that every day in training you really have to be at your best to stay in that starting XI.”
Aaronson of course isn’t the only player on the Union with deep Steel FC roots. Auston Trusty, Corey Burke, and Mark McKenzie all experienced the positive affects of owning a USL Championship side. The opportunity to experience soccer at a professional level while also being acclimated to the Union’s overall philosophy can create reliable first team players.
“They taught me a lot at the Steel and that USL pathway really helps a lot because you have to fight for minutes there too so it’s not easy,” said Aaronson.
Union fans can catch a glimpse of this year’s Steel FC squad following the 1 o’clock match. Steel FC welcome Charlotte Independence with kick-off set at 4 PM. Hopefully just that; a little added energy and incentive to cover ground…” said Burke, Steel FC Head Coach. “That as legs start to get heavy, we’re able to put our heads down and get to the next spot early, be prepared to play and be competent and efficient on the ball because we are getting to our spots early.”
You can almost think of the double header as a mini-celebration of Union’s growth as an organization over the past three years. Heavy investments into their youth Academy at YSC and upgrades to training facilities and team offices have slowly and quietly transformed the franchise into a promising one yet again. Perhaps they’ve started to recapture the buzz that surrounded the club when they first emerged over 10 years ago.
With Aaronson in the starting XI and fulfilling a major role at the 10, Union fans will be able to cheer on a strong example of what the investment in the Academy and training grounds can provide. After all, Aaronson first met Curtin when he was just 12 years old. “I played up… he was coaching a training group every Tuesday and Thursday,” said Aaronson. “I would go in and train with these older kids and that’s where I first met him. It was awesome to be with him at that time and its awesome being reunited with him again.”
Aaronson’s young legs will be a key aspect to keep track of for Philadelphia. He will need to continue covering acres of space throughout the middle of the pitch to quickly win possession back whenever lost. And in the attacking third, expect Aaronson to begin taking more chances as they come. “Definitely to take as many chances as possible,” said Aaronson when asked of his development so far this year. “I’m always the kind of guy that’s looking to create things in the attacking third. I just need to take chances and keep working really hard defensively.”
Expect both the Union and Steel FC to earn wins on what hopes to be a rain free Saturday at Talen Energy Stadium.
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Mandatory Credit: Bethlehem Steel FC