Emerging young stars stand out at MLS tournament

Philadelphia Union midfielder Brenden Aaronson has played so well in his brief MLS career that he’s now fodder for the European soccer rumor mill.

Just 19 years old, he has started in five matches for the Union so far this year, with a goal and two assists.

“I think it’s just been staying confident on the field and just doing what I know I can do best,” Aaronson said. “And just having that thought process in every game, doing what I can for the team.”

Aaronson is in his second season with the Union, who are set to meet the Portland Timbers on Wednesday night in the semifinals of the MLS is Back tournament in Florida. The other semifinal, between Orlando City and Minnesota United, is set for Thursday.

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The native of Medford, New Jersey, has been in Philadelphia’s system since he was 10 years old, and the club signed him as a homegrown player before the 2019 season.

Philadelphia coach Jim Curtin pointed to Aaronson’s pass to Sergio Santos that gave the Union a 3-0 advantage over Sporting Kansas City as a standout moment for the budding star. Philadelphia won 3-1 to advance to the semifinal.

“I think in his growth now and development, he is now seeing that next-level pass and he sees Sergio through that little hole at the back post, for the one-touch finish,” Curtin said. “So that goal is kind of a good snapshot of his development and growth.”

Aaronson has already caught the eye of U.S. national team coach Gregg Berhalter, who has been a familiar face while scouting the tournament in Florida. The young attacking midfielder was called into the national team’s January camp, then started for the team in his first appearance against Costa Rica in February.

U.S. national team legend DaMarcus Beasley called him “silkyyy″ on Twitter.

Aaronson has also reportedly drawn the interest of several Bundesliga teams, as well as Scottish club Celtic.

Other young players who have stood out during the MLS is Back tournament at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World:

AYO AKINOLA: Toronto’s 20-year-old forward was one of the surprises of the tournament with five goals, including a hat trick against rival Montreal in the group stage. A product of Toronto’s academy system, Akinola started while Jozy Altidore was making his way back to game fitness. Akinola was born in Detroit, but his family moved to Canada when he was still an infant.

MAURICIO PINEDA: A defender/midfielder for Chicago, the 22-year-old Pineda has started all five games for the Fire with a goal and an assist. Pineda, an Illinois native, was part of the Fire’s academy before heading off to play for North Carolina. He signed as a homegrown player earlier this year, and was rewarded during the tournament when the Fire exercised an option to keep him with the team through next season.

FRANKIE AMAYA: FC Cincinnati’s promising 19-year-old midfielder scored his first professional goal — from distance — in the group stage against Atlanta. A native of Santa Ana, Amaya played a season for UCLA before he was the first overall pick in the 2019 SuperDraft. “He’s a young player and he’s just starting, but he’s already at a certain level where we can think, ‘OK, he’s doing very well,'” Cincinnati coach Jaap Stam said.

DIEGO ROSSI: LAFC’s 22-year-old forward got his chance to impress in the tournament when Carlos Vela opted to stay home. Rossi currently leads MLS with six regular-season goals, including four goals in the team’s opening match of the MLS is Back Tournament, a 6-2 victory over the rival LA Galaxy. A designated player from Uruguay, Rossi is in his third MLS season. Last year he had 16 goals and seven assists.

CHRIS MUELLER: The breakout star in a breakout tournament for Orlando City is the 23-year-old forward, who is in his third season. Mueller has four goals, including a pair just six minutes apart against NYCFC in the group stage. Taken with the sixth overall pick in the 2018 draft out of Wisconsin, he was one of the candidates for the league’s rookie of the year. He is clearly thriving this season under new coach Oscar Pareja.

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