DOHA, Qatar — Brenden Aaronson made his FIFA World Cup debut in Doha this week, marking another big win of his young career.
In the 66th minute of USA’s first group game against Wales, Aaronson took to the world’s greatest stage with a performance that was emblematic of his skill, showing energy, relentlessness and punch. His pass through midfield was near perfect, as was his pressing, and he fired one of the few shots USA managed.
With England being the next Test for USA, Aaronson is likely to play an even bigger role on Friday, drawing on his English Premier League experience for Leeds United.
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The 22-year-old from Medford has come a long way since his days at Union Academy, the place where his career took off from young MLS talent to Premier League player.
“Honestly, I’m speechless,” Aaronson told a small gathering of media in Doha as he reflected on the weight of that moment in his skyrocketing career. “It’s such a dream come true. Being here and being with the guys, seeing everyone’s faces and walking in and just seeing the flags waving as they greeted us. It’s an incredible feeling. And it really is a dream come true.”
The United States take on England as an underdog against a tournament favorite and play with something they need to prove. It’s a trait Aaronson is used to. At Leeds, Aaronson plays under exceptional pressure every week.
There’s of course the constant pressure of needing wins in a stubborn football pyramid to prove Leeds belong in England’s top flight. There’s also the pressure of being one of three Americans at a Premier League club. Aaronson plays alongside USMNT captain Tyler Adams in Yorkshire at a club run by Wisconsin native Jesse Marsch.
Aaronson and Adams have played key roles for Leeds this year. And given their undeniable efforts and impact, fans have given the two young Americans a warm welcome. Aaronson even earned his own song from the stands. To the tune of Kanye West and Estelle’s ‘American Boy’, Leeds United regularly serenade the Medford midfielder in gratitude for his efforts. Aaronson says the song is “pretty cool” and admits he’s a big fan of it.
Aaronson is not alone in England, of course, with Americans joining clubs at various levels. Alongside Adams and Aaronson at Leeds, Hershey’s Christian Pulisic has made a name for himself at Chelsea. A native of Park Ridge, New Jersey, Matt Turner is the backup keeper at Arsenal. Alabama native Chris Richards has signed with Crystal Palace.
Together they believe their Premier League experience has helped them prepare for England’s impressive national team. The consistently high stakes have honed their mental toughness and the physicality of the Premier League has prepared them for this World Cup group. When asked about the physical condition of Wales and England, Aaronson described his time in the Premier League as solid preparation.
“Week after week it makes me stronger and I feel like I can handle the physicality,” Aaronson said, adding that he spent time lifting the weights. “I know it doesn’t look like it. But I try.”
Considering the confidence factor playing at such a high level, he remarked, “Tyler [Adams] Especially this season it was incredible. I think I did pretty well and did my best. And yes, I think my confidence has definitely increased. And I think his [confidence] to. I think ahead of this tournament our confidence is really high.”
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So much of Aaronson’s secret recipe is the intensity he brings to every game. He racks up miles in the Premier League as he runs further in every game than most players in the entire league, according to stats. USA can expect the same when he’s on the field, an intensity that could pay off against England.
“That’s how the World Cup is going to be, it’s going to be a dogfight out there,” Aaronson said. “It’s about which team wants to get more out of the day. I think if we start with intensity as a starting point, I think our quality will win out. And I think we will be able to win games.”