Every time Brenden Aaronson joins the United States Men’s National Team, American football fans get a closer look at a brand new player.
Nine doesn’t mean entirely different, at least in this scenario. On the contrary, every time Aaronson shows up at the USMNT camp, he looks like a better version of himself.
With Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna out of action due to injury, it was Aaronson who faced Jamaica on Thursday, assisting on the second goal of a 2-0 win after playing for the United States early on. . For most teams, the absence of players like Pulisic and Reyna would be a death sentence, but Aaronson has proven to be more than capable of matching his superstar teammates.
Thursday was just the last big moment for the Red Bull Salzburg star, who has made a habit of giving the United States exactly what they need in the attacking third.
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As the United States goes through 2021 and the first moments of qualifying for the World Cup, Aaronson just keeps getting better. He appears to be a more confident, direct and decisive player.
In short, we watch Aaronson go from newcomer to USMNT regular to, one could easily support him, the team’s most important offensive player in 2021.
“I’m not going to lie: I’m getting nervous,” Aaronson admitted after the win over Jamaica. “I mean, it’s normal, and it’s part of how young players adapt to it.
“I was nervous but I know my quality and I trust it and I think everyone was too. Once you connect that first pass and go from there it’s then to the top.”
If Aaronson is still struggling with nerves with the national team, it’s hard to see, especially in the past month or so.
The Red Bull Salzburg star was decisive in the game against Canada, scoring a goal before seeing the United States squander the lead moments later. He scored another against Honduras, helping to put the final 4-1 victory out of reach, before helping Ricardo Pepi on the second of his two goals in the Jamaica victory.
Pepi grabbed the headlines last month, and rightly so. What Pepi is doing is amazing, especially considering that position # 9 is one of need.
But what Aaronson did was equally impressive as he shone in a place that is certainly not a necessary position for the United States at this point.
Played largely away from home, Aaronson will compete with Pulisic, Reyna, Paul Arriola and Tim Weah for minutes in the months and years to come and, on his own, Aaronson is the standout. As the others battled injuries, Aaronson kept pushing forward, racking up big numbers along the way.
Aaronson is tied with Sebastian Lletget as USMNT’s top scorer in 2021, although he has only played 538 minutes in total. And, of his four goals, two came at crucial moments in World Cup qualifying, with Aaronson scoring against Canada and Honduras.
And it’s not just the stats, it’s the style. So far this year, USMNT has been at its best with Aaronson on the court.
“He’s methodical in the way he goes about it,” said USMNT boss Gregg Berhalter. “It’s about constantly improving and using every game, every training session to improve.
“I think he’s a great example to the rest of the group of that slow, steady improvement. It really, really helps you position yourself and he did a great job with the team. His pace of work, his energy. , its end product are all very strong. “
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Going forward, Berhalter will have a lot of selection issues when it comes to wing position. But these will be the right kinds of headaches.
In the coming months, Berhalter will have to juggle his wealth of offshore talent, which is a good problem to have in those three-game windows. But, if the United States were to start the World Cup with a full squad right now, it would be very difficult to keep Aaronson on the sidelines.
He was better than Pulisic because, in the Chelsea star’s limited minutes, he developed a bad habit of trying to do too much. In CONCACAF, doing too much often results in a few shin hits for good measure, as Pulisic has often been punished for trying to dribble more than he needed to.
And Aaronson has proven to be effective defensively as well, making an effort to apply pressure when called up. He had the energy of Arriola and the creativity of Reyna or Pulisic, all in one.
But those decisions are for another day as the young USMNT attack continues to settle.
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“When you think of Paul and Brenden, I would hate to play against these guys,” Berhalter said after Thursday night’s win. “They are relentless. They don’t stop. It’s boring, even when the coach looks at them I’m like, “Oh my god you don’t stop here. You continue. And they harass these defenders all the time. It was truly an incredible performance.
It remains to be seen with which winger Berhalter will face Panama on Sunday. He knocked out Aaronson after just 68 minutes on Thursday, citing his heavy workload at the club level. With Weah, Arriola and Matthew Hoppe all available, Berhalter could give Aaronson a much-needed rest.
But if he doesn’t, Aaronson will be looking to grab another chance to shine for the USMNT, another chance to put his nerves aside and take one more step forward.
“I don’t even think we think of ourselves as young anymore,” says Aaronson. “We are put in a situation where the whole country is watching us and we have to perform. Everyone takes up this challenge.
“If you watch him, Pepi comes out and does his thing tonight, and me Sergino [Dest] and Yunus [Musah], Yunus is not even nervous before the game.
“We’re all smiling. We’re just having a good time and then we just go out there and have a good time and just show our country what we can do.”