Player spotlight

Aaronson adjusting to life in Salzburg and eager to chase silverware

Brenden Aaronson is happy with his first few games with Red Bull Salzburg and is ambitious at the start of the European-era of his career. ASN's Brian Sciaretta spoke with the young midfielder from New Jersey on his expectations and his initial impressions of his move to Austria. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
February 09, 2021
6:50 PM

FOR THE SECOND TIME in a matter of months, Brenden Aaronson is chasing silverware. In a season where he was named to the 2020 MLS Best XI and won the Supporters Shield with the Philadelphia Union, Brenden Aaronson earned a transfer to Red Bull Salzburg where he is aiming for an Austrian Bundesliga title.

Aaronson, 20, has been playing regularly with Red Bull Salzburg and on Wednesday the club will look to move back into the lead of the Austrian Bundesliga with a win over Austria Vienna. Expectations are high in Salzburg which won the title last season where it amassed a +76 goal differential in 32 games while scoring 110 goals. While players come and go at Salzburg as the club has been selling top talent such as Erling Haaland at a regular basis, one thing that has not changed as been the team’s winning nature.

As top players like Haaland go, new players are ready to step up. Aaronson is now part of the next crop that is expected to step up as the latest high-profile sale was attacking midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai to within the Red Bull empire to RB Leipzig. The Medford, New Jersey native is ready to step up and contribute for another Austrian title and follow in a long list of top young players that come through the club.

“That's honestly the beauty of it, is everybody gets a chance and it's just if you're willing to take it or not,” Aaronson told ASN from Austria. “They put a lot of trust in their players. They don't just scout players to just bring them in. They have plans for them. And I think that's why they've been so successful in the past selling and then getting players. You understand that when Haaland leaves, they still have Patson Daka on the bench. He's scoring 30 goals in season. So it's not a coincidence. They just have a great set up.”

“I think that's what will help me take that next step is just winning mentality that they have here,” Aaronson added. “You can tell with the way we train every single day. You can tell that it's just a winning mentality here and I love that about the club. It comes with a lot of pressure. You're expected to win every single game. If you don't, it's looked down upon. It's a very tough league. It's very aggressive, very physical. The technical side of things are very good here, too.”

At Salzburg, Aaronson plays under American manager Jesse Marsch who has managed the club since 2019 and who used to manage the New York Red Bulls back in MLS. Across the various teams within the Red Bull organizing, there is a similar style that involves direct play and intense-pressing to force turnovers.

The system isn’t dramatically different than his time at Philadelphia under manager Jim Curtin. Under Marsch, Aaronson has been deployed as one of the No. 10 players in a dual-No.10 formation - although he adds the team still occasionally uses the diamond midfield formation which was also used a lot with Philadelphia. Aaronson believes that the similarities under the managers has helped him with his adjustment.

“I already kind of had this at the Union,” Aaronson explained. “This is kind of, not frantic, but pressuring and aggression and winning the ball high up the field. I kind of had that at the Union and I think that coming here was kind of an easier transition. I came from a club that really had kind of the same philosophy. So, it was easier for me. But for sure, it's fits my style of play. I want to win the ball up the field and then go to goal right away. The attacking players are really, really good on this team. And I think the little 1-2's and when we get up to the final third, I think it's really special and I think that this team is just really good…The two No. 10s fits my playing style a lot, so I'm really happy with it. I can drift out wide but also get into the midfield. It's how I play.”

These days Aaronson is learning to adjust not just to a new team on the field, but to a new way of life off the field in a new country and a new culture. He is happy with his progress of learning German and making friends with his teammates. It has also been different for him to come home alone to an empty apartment as opposed to coming home with his family.

But Aaronson is adjusting quickly and a big reason has been his positive relationship with Marsch who has motivated him and explained what he expects as a coach while also helping him off the field.

“I think he is a great, great coach,” Aaronson said of Marsch. “He has been fantastic for me these past three weeks, helping me to get into the team, introducing me to everybody and making me feel welcome. And he's just been awesome on the football side or the soccer side of things, too, because he's really taught me how to play different things about the game. I thought I was closing the ball down fast on the Union. Here I have to close things down even faster. Teaching me little things. I'm definitely growing as a soccer player. And he does that with a lot of guys. You see who he has worked with. It is exciting to work with him.”

“I think they've been really happy with me and they've been open with me,” he added. “Jesse and I have talked. He just said to keep my head up throughout this whole process, keep looking forward to the games and the trainings and don't get down if I have a bad training. But they said that I've been doing great so far.”

When asked about the difference between what’s he has seen in Austria and how it compares with what he experienced in MLS, he notes how aggressive the play is in Austria when teams play Salzburg but felt prepared for it from his time with Philadelphia.

But Aaronson’s ties with Philadelphia remain strong. He is still frequently in contact with Mark McKenzie who was also named to the MLS Best XI last season with Philadelphia and is in the national team pool. Like Aaronson, McKenzie was sold after the season – to a Genk team that is one of the best teams in Belgium.

On an even more personal note, Aaronson will be keeping a close eye on Philadelphia this season because in addition to his friends still on the team, his young brother Paxten Aaronson, has signed a homegrown deal with the Union and is looking to break into the first team in 2021. A highly rated 2003-born playmaking midfielder, the younger Aaronson holds long-term European ambitions but wants to first help fill the void his brother left following the sale.

“He's fully focused on Philadelphia,” the elder Aaronson aid. “It’s his dream to get over here but first, he has to take everything one by one. I learned a good lesson at the Union and that was that you have to live every day in the moment. You can't look to the future. Paxten is going to do that. I feel like he's going to have a great first season. And I'm super excited to watch the games from over here. Hopefully I set up this whole VPN thing, so I'll be watching the Union and MLS games. I want to be cheering on the Union for the rest of the time I am here.”

In addition to his time at Salzburg, Aaronson hopes that 2021 will be a busy year for him internationally as the U.S. national team embarks on a year where it will take part in the final rounds of CONCACAF Nations League, the Gold Cup, and the start of World Cup qualifying. Aaronson is also eligible for the U.S. U-23 team which will participate in Olympic qualifying in March and potentially the Olympics starting at the end of July.

“Playing for your national team is always on your mind,” Aaronson said. "I think that's a huge honor. And for me, working as hard as I can at Red Bull Salzburg and just showing people day in and day out that I deserve to be with the national team. I'm just going to be patient with it. And then when my time comes, hopefully it comes - we'll see where it goes from there… the Olympics for me, like that's a fantastic thing to be a part of. I'd like to help the United States in any way that I can.”

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