When he’s buzzing around on the pitch, his energy seems endless. But even Brenden Aaronson isn’t immune to the physical and mental taxation of relocating to a new city.
“I was just joking with Milana, my girlfriend, when I got home because I’m just so tired,” Brenden said, smiling for a moment through the fatigue that is draped over his face.
It’s a boiling August afternoon in Berlin. We’re in the corner of a hotel lobby that doubles as a modern, cozy cafe, sitting next to the entrance that is accessible through a gap in the East Side Gallery memorial. Remnants of the Berlin Wall that are now iconic murals are swarmed by tourists. This truly is a change of scenery for the Leeds loanee who’s now plying his trade for Union Berlin in the Bundesliga, and he’s still a few days away from feeling settled.
“I’m running around having to get all these different things set up – the WiFi, I’m having trouble setting up the WiFi right now – it’s definitely stressful, this kind of stuff,” the 22-year-old U.S. men’s national team attacker said. “You have to deal with football, then coming back and dealing with the living situation, it’s tough sometimes. Especially when you just want to go home and lay down after training for like three hours in the heat. It’s tough but it’s life, it’s part of it.”
In addition to his girlfriend, Brenden’s family is in town helping him with the moving process. With the exception, of course, of his younger, 20-year-old brother Paxten, who’s about 350 miles away, also preparing for his first full season in the German Bundesliga with Eintracht Frankfurt.
Later in our conversation, Brenden is rapidly reinvigorated by an unavoidable topic: his perpetual competition with Paxten. “I can keep going, now it’s making me competitive,” Brenden said. He just finished running through what he’s supposedly better at, spotlighting things like basketball and Rocket League, but admitted, “We haven’t played a lot in a while… I would say he’s winning more than I am though, in the things that we’re doing.”
His brother certainly agrees. “We’re still super competitive, but I think he’s kind of accepted some things that I’m just better than him at,” Paxten said two days earlier, at a Viennese-style cafe in the Westend district of Frankfurt.
Brenden and Paxten have never faced each other, though, as members of opposing teams in an organized game. No American brothers have ever done so in a top European league, but that’s set to change soon. No American brothers have ever represented the USMNT together in the modern era of the program, which could change before long, too.
Although there are parallels, the trajectories of the Aaronsons’ careers aren’t identical: they’re not the same player, nor are they the same person. But the Medford, New Jersey natives are now on the same stage, aiming to take the next crucial step of their development and firmly establish themselves for their Bundesliga clubs and national team.
After graduating from the Philadelphia Union academy and moving to their first team, Paxten Aaronson’s ascent didn’t mirror Brenden’s. He never had a breakout season with Philly. In fact he made more first team starts in 2021 – only five – than the following year. His development was stalling.
“The biggest thing was keeping him patient. At the end of the day football is about patience, especially when you’re a young player. You never know when your chance is going to come, but when your chance comes, you have to take it,” Brenden said. “It was a shame because I felt like he knew he had good games and he came off the bench and did well, but listen, football goes like that… The team was playing amazing when he was there, it’s tough to change things. He got good minutes, he learned a lot and it was at that point just reminding him that he’s an amazing player and his time will come.”
Paxten was still shining with the U.S. U-20s, leading them to a Concacaf U-20 Championship three-peat last summer while winning the Golden Ball and Golden Boot at that tournament (recognizing the best player and top scorer, respectively). But his path with the youth national teams required patience, too.