Brenden Aaronson: RB Salzburg signs Philadelphia Union star - Sports Illustrated

U.S. Midfielder Brenden Aaronson to Leave Philadelphia Union for RB Salzburg

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Another of the U.S. men's national team's talented young prospects is headed overseas.

Brenden Aaronson, the Philadelphia Union's 19-year-old breakout midfield star, is headed to RB Salzburg, where he'll play for American manager Jesse Marsch, the Union announced on Friday. Aaronson will leave for Austria following the end of the 2020 MLS season, which is a boon for the Union, a team in contention for the Supporters' Shield in the abbreviated campaign

He'll be eligible to play for RB Salzburg when the winter transfer window opens on Jan. 1, and, according to the Union, he's moving for "a multi-million-dollar transfer fee" plus additional bonuses, making his fee the highest "for a U.S.-based homegrown player." According to ESPN, the initial fee is $6 million and could rise to as high as $9 million. That would be less than the reported $10 million fee Villarreal paid in 2008 for Jozy Altidore, but he was not technically a homegrown player for the New York Red Bulls. New York did fetch a $5 million fee for homegrown Matt Miazga from Chelsea in 2016, for comparison sake. (The fees for Tyler Adams's move to RB Leipzig and DeAndre Yedlin's to Tottenham were both reportedly in the $3-$4 million range.)

Aaronson, who has one cap with the senior national team, has become a fixture in the Union's lineup over the last two seasons, with seven goals and seven assists in his 46 appearances (43 starts). His assist vs. Sporting Kansas City in the MLS Is Back knockout stage (not included in his league stats), offered a glimpse into what he's capable of in the attacking third.

“I’ve worked with Brenden since he played on the Union Academy youth teams, and have witnessed his rapid development since then,” Union manager Jim Curtin said in a statement. “Brenden is a special player who is always looking to improve. Over the past couple of years, he’s become very developed technically and the distance and speed he covers over the course of a game are unmatched. I look forward to watching him continue to grow and develop at Red Bull Salzburg. In the meantime, we’re happy to have him through the end of our 2020 season, and I promise fans we’ll make the most of our time with him.”

Aaronson, who becomes the Union's first outgoing transfer to Europe, joins the growing group of young U.S. talents overseas, and he follows ex-FC Dallas standout Reggie Cannon in moving abroad after the right back signed with Portugal's Boavista last month.

“Playing in Europe has always been a part of my dream," Aaronson said. "I’ve been able to accomplish the first part of my dream, to play for my home city, and am so excited for this continuation of my journey."

Brenden Aaronson is headed to RB Salzburg

A homegrown player that rose through Philadelphia's academy, Aaronson will be leaving behind a club that recently signed his younger brother, Paxten. He joined Union Juniors when he was 11 and remained with the club up through signing his homegrown player deal two years ago. 

“This has always been the goal of the club," Union sporting director Ernst Tanner said. "We want to establish a unique identity of developing young players through our academy with an end goal of cultivating and developing their talent to the level that allows them to compete against the very best in the world. We are incredibly proud that Brenden is leading the way as the first Philadelphia Union homegrown player to test himself against top European competition.”

Aaronson could have the opportunity to play in the Champions League this season, depending on how Salzburg fares in the group stage in a tough quartet featuring Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid and Lokomotiv Moscow. Ten other American players are confirmed on Champions League rosters for the group stage.

Regardless, participating in European competition shouldn't be a concern down the line for Aaronson. The Austrian club has become dominant domestically, winning the last seven Austrian Bundesliga titles and 11 of the last 14. The three years in that span that it didn't win the title, Salzburg finished second.

“Brenden Aaronson is considered one of the greatest talents in the MLS, his dynamism and his presence on the field are extraordinary for a 19-year-old,” Salzburg sporting director Christoph Freund said. “Despite his young age, he already has an excellent feeling for making the right decisions on the pitch. With his way of playing football, Brenden is a perfect match for us and we are already looking forward to him."