Brendan Burke says Leeds United have signed an unselfish, versatile, high IQ footballer who could have his best impact early on as a wide player before becoming a “No 10”.
Now in charge of Colorado Springs Switchbacks, Burke spent much of his coaching career at Philadelphia Union, where Aaronson made his Major League Soccer (MLS) debut having played for feeder club Bethlehem Steel under him.
“The day isn’t long enough to say enough good things about Brenden,” says Burke. “He’s one of those special people that when you’re around them, even when they’re young, you know they’re going to succeed in a big way, you just don’t know exactly how.
“Jim Curtin and I were first-team assistants but working in the academy when he was an eight- or nine-year-old kid so we’ve been around Brenden for a long, long time.
“He ended up playing for me in the USL Championship (the division below the MLS). I believed he debuted as a 16-year-old or maybe just shy of it and we knew we had something special.
“He was a tiny, slight guy with great feet and his IQ was out of this world so he adapted as quickly as any of the kids.”
Some expect a box-to-box Mateusz Klich/Adam Forshaw-style midfield role but Burke thinks Jesse Marsch, Aaronson’s coach for six months at previous club Red Bull Salzburg, might use him differently.
“He’s playing for another of the great American managers in (national team coach Gregg) Berhalter and he and Jesse are not wholly dissimilar,” explains Burke. “They play with great energy and press high. Brenden’s been used in slightly different roles, usually wide.
“I think it’ll be easier for him to adjust as a wide player, especially in those first six months, but I know, based on my experience of guys who’ve moved to Europe, he has the ability to move inside and become a 10 at that level. We wouldn’t have had those conversations about American players years ago. (Brian) McBride and (Clint) Dempsey were great players but in a very different mould. Brenden can pull the strings at that level. He’s unselfish but if he has to make a play on his own he has that capability.”
Burke pointed to his father Rusty as an important influence.
“I still text his dad,” he says. “Rusty interacted with Philadelphia’s phenomenal academy director, Iain Munro. Iain imprinted Brenden’s development from a young age, nurturing his love of the game.
“Rusty was always around the place but never meddled. He was a good player in his own right but he was always there for all his kids.
“He never acted like the parent of a special talent.”
Unsurprisingly, Burke expects Aaronson to be a huge success.
“Christian Pulisic is another guy we coached in Philly before he went to (Borussia) Dortmund,” he reveals. “We had Christian when he was 13, 14 and I can see Brenden very much following in his footsteps.
“Christian was another wiry little kid but hyper-intelligent with frenetic movement both sides of the ball and a real passion to get better.
“I don’t think there’s a level Brenden can’t play at. He’s built up his body to be far more durable than I thought he might when he was very young.
“His running output is insane, the top one or two per cent in world football (he is in Europe’s top one per cent for pressing). That speaks to his personality, his upbringing.
“If you have that at that level playing for a manager like Jesse who all us American coaches look up to in a big, big way, I don’t see a way where Brenden doesn’t play his part at that level.
“Jesse’s out there to make the game predictable for his players defensively and do great work against the ball, then not mess around when they have it. So when you do have a high IQ player like Brenden you can rely on their physical output and when they have the ball you’re going to be putting them into positions where they can improvise and finish games.
“He’s super humble, friendly and funny. He will engage with the fans and I’ll be shocked if his team-mates don’t love him.
“I’m hoping, praying for and expecting a big success.
“And Leeds are going to be the most talked-about club in America.”