While big brother Brenden Aaronson appears to be headed to the Premier League and possibly the World Cup, Paxten Aaronson is poised to break out on his own.
Paxten, 18, is a product of the Philadelphia Union's academy system, just like his brother. Both signed homegrown contracts with the Major League Soccer club.
The younger Aaronson played more than 45 minutes for the Union on Sunday, coming in as a sub in Philadelphia's 2-0 victory over Portland. It was his longest stint on field in MLS play this season.
“He got pushed around a little bit and he took some fouls for us and drew some fouls, but I think the best way for young guys to learn is to get thrown out there. We’ll never know how good they are until they’re out there and Paxten stepped up in a really big way for us — no different than when his brother Brenden got thrown out in front of a big crowd in Atlanta," Union coach Jim Curtin said. "I think the Aaronson genetics, they have something in them that they rise to the occasion. They don’t shrink."
Paxten has been praised as being equally talented — albeit a few years behind in his development — as Brenden, who has broken through to the U.S. national team as it prepares for the World Cup in Qatar and was named by coach Gregg Berhalter to the team's roster for two June friendlies.
Brenden, 21, played for the Union from 2019-20, scoring seven goals in 51 appearances. In the fall of 2020, it was announced he was headed for Red Bull Salzburg in Austria on a multimillion-dollar transfer fee, the largest to that point for a homegrown player in MLS.
The attacking midfielder from Medford, New Jersey, returned from a knee injury that sidelined him for six weeks and converted on a penalty kick that propelled Salzburg to its ninth straight Austrian Bundesliga title late last month with a 5-0 win over Austria Vienna.
In recent days, reports emerged that the older Aaronson is moving to Leeds United, which avoided relegation on the final day of the Premier League season with a 2-1 victory over Brentford. The Union stand to get a portion of the transfer fee paid to Salzburg, but the deal is not quite done.
Leeds is coached by Curtin's former teammate and friend Jesse Marsch.
“It’s a wild ride if you really look back how quickly Brenden has risen -- on the field, most importantly. The dollars are the dollars and certainly that’s great and that’s part of our model and it certainly helps the league, it helps ownership, helps everything. It’s really good the money side of things, but to watch the kid now go in the last 18 months from great MLS player to a great national team player to a great player in Europe,” Curtin said.
Paxten appeared in 14 matches for the Union's senior team last season, scoring three goals. He scored his first in August against New England, which was also his first MLS start. He's appeared in eight matches so far this season.
Like his brother before him, Paxten is seeing interest from clubs abroad. But first comes his high school graduation from the Union's YSC Academy. Brenden and fellow Union homegrown Mark McKenzie, who is now playing in Belgium's top league, are also products of the academy.
“Having these young guys see us homegrowns that have made it, graduating in front of them, I think it’s a big deal for them and it for sure is going to give them inspiration and motivation,” Paxten said.
Meanwhile, Paxten is drawing his inspiration from his brother.
“His pathway to where he’s gotten now with the national team, with the accomplishments and all the trophies and so on in such a short time with Salzburg, it’s kind of taken the perfect path,” Paxten Aaronson said. “Young homegrown, started with the first team at Philly, got good minutes, won the Supporters Shield then made the jump to Europe, and he's done really well and has had success. So it’s an inspiration for me and for sure, I want to follow in his footsteps."
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Anne M. Peterson, The Associated Press