USMNT v Granada: Brenden Aaronson shares why midfield is an ‘I see myself playing in the future’ role

At just 21 years old, Brenden Aaronson has become a critical member of the United States men’s team, as well as securing a move to Leeds United. A winner everywhere he goes, Aaronson has become known for the infectious energy he brings and his desire to learn, grow and consume film whenever possible. As he told CBS Sports’ In Soccer We Trust podcast, the unique blend comes from his training with his father Rusty and brother Paxten, while also excelling at the Philadelphia Union academy.

The most surprising thing about Aaronson, however, is that even though he’s done so much in his career, he still doesn’t have a defined position. His versatility has helped him progress, but it means no coach has yet placed him in a specific role. Over the years, he’s played as an eight, ten and winger, but he may be finding his rhythm as Gregg Berhalter looks to find different ways to get his best team – which includes Aaronson – on the field at the same time.

Recent friendlies against Morocco and Uruguay have seen Aaronson take on a deeper role in the midfield that is normally occupied by Weston McKennie. With Tyler Adams and Yunus Musah operating almost like two defensive midfielders, Aaronson has been tasked with operating in the intervening spaces between midfield and attack, which is a place where he feels comfortable.

Aaronson liked the role.

“I played in ten at Red Bull Salzburg and I know my role in the middle so it was nice to have another chance to play in the middle of this field.” Aaronson said: “It worked out that I was able to play Morocco and play a good game. And it was good for the team [when it came to] the flow of the attack and everything that I was a part of the game, I felt right in the middle”

In that game against Morocco, Aaronson scored a goal with a midfield run that Christian Pulisic saw. While the run isn’t much different from what he’s also done as a winger, being able to bring his conscience behind Pulisic and Tim Weah made a big difference compared to more advanced operations. Watching the game unfold and choosing your runs is one place where Aaronson’s attention to the study of the film shines.

On the national stage, it can make a big difference. Capturing a team’s tendencies and using them to separate them could be the difference between leaving the group stage of the World Cup and coming home early. It also helps to play a role that you enjoy. “It’s safe to say I enjoy playing eight and it’s something I see myself playing in the future. And I think I can do that, this box-to-box midfield. [role].” added Aaronson.

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Although he does go at times, this is the role Aaronson is expected to play with Leeds United when he is reunited with his former manager Jesse Marsch. The hope is also that with the upcoming Concacaf Nations League games against Granada and El Salvador, Aaronson can also play deeper in midfield. For teams that are more likely to sit back and let the USMNT have the ball, it helps to have someone like Aaronson shove the ball into the holes created by the defense and take advantage of the channels that open up.

Running the game in situations like this is where Aaronson says he wants to grow his personal game and he’s quick to point to players like Kevin de Bruyne as examples of attacking players who can also dictate the game from afar. And Aaronson has experience playing on teams that dictate that kind of game. He earned his move to Leeds while playing for one of Austria’s best teams at RB Salzburg, a team that had the ball or was trying to get the ball the vast majority of the time during their matches. And, looking forward, at the World Cup he will likely have the opportunity to do something similar against Iran and Wales, two more stylistically conservative sides of the USMNT group.

As Berhalter looks to continue the development of the USMNT, Aaronson’s continued maturation will be instrumental in reaching new levels. Aaronson’s thirst to develop his personal game at all times, combined with the favorable situation of the club he is heading towards with Leeds United, should set the stage for him to take the next leap in his career with club and country.

Whether he has the chance to show it at the Nations League this summer, or the World Cup in November, Aaronson is an important part of the USMNT’s future…

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