CHESTER, Pa. — Philadelphia Union midfielder Brenden Aaronson has taken his fair share of lumps during the first two months of his Major League Soccer career.
The 18-year-old Homegrown midfielder faces one of his toughest tests yet in the midfield on Saturday, when he goes up against Diego Chara of the Portland Timbers.
While the physical nature of Major League Soccer could hurt the development of first-year players, Aaronson has embraced every challenge that has been put in front of him so far.
“I definitely get beat up,” Aaronson said. “You could say that. It’s good though because I like getting into battles with these guys. It pumps me up and pushes me.”
“Every single week when I look at these No. 6s, I look at it as a challenge,” Aaronson said. “It’s exciting going against a new big No. 6.”
The key on Saturday for Aaronson is to take the space given to him in an aggressive manner and show more of an impetus going at goal, which he struggled with last Saturday against the Seattle Sounders.
“(Chara)’s a smaller guy,” Aaronson said. “He likes to get stuck in. I think he’s going to be all around me. Just finding the right space and knowing when to dribble because he’s probably faster and stronger. If I play quick, things will open up.”
The Union as a whole need to work on their play in the final third after putting just six of their 20 shots on goal in the scoreless draw with Seattle at home a week ago.
“I think this week we have to focus on our finishing,” Aaronson said. “You can see we’re creating so many chances. It’s a lot and it just says that we have to finish. We have been finishing. If you look around the team, everybody’s got a good amount of goals. It’s just that last game we didn’t finish.”
On the other end of the midfield battle lies Haris Medunjanin, who leads the defensive approach against Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco and Brian Fernandez.
Facing one of the league’s best No. 10s is no new task for Medunjanin and the Union, who faced Toronto FC’s Alejandro Pozuelo and Seattle’s Nicolas Lodeiro in back-to-back weeks.
“Every week we face this type of player that we need to focus on,” Medunjanin said. “Lodeiro, Pozuelo, (D.C.’s Luciano) Acosta. In every team, there’s one or two players who could get past us.”
The Union’s approach to Saturday’s game will be similar to the ones they have had in previous games, but there will be more focus on keeping possession and staying tight in their shape when defending Portland’s playmakers.
“Like I always say, it’s all about the team,” Medunjanin said. “How we press together. Are we standing close to each other? Then you can make it difficult for them to play those balls. If you give any player the time, everybody can get the ball behind the defense.”
“That’s why we need to work on when (Valeri) gets the ball that somebody surrounds him, Blanco, their new DP (Fernandez),” Medunjanin said. “These are all good players. They have a good team. Every year they are in the final or semifinal. We can’t take anybody easy because we are not that kind of team that we can rest and take it 50 percent.”
If it’s necessary on Saturday, Medunjanin will stay back and keep Valeri occupied, while Alejandro Bedoya and Jamiro Monteiro get forward in the middle of the field.
“Sometime I tell the coach if it’s necessary I will stay with (the No. 10),” Medunjanin said. “I don’t have to play, but he will not go and play. You need to put yourself in a position to work for the team sometimes and somebody else can step up and make plays. That’s what we’ve done sometimes.”
“Even with (Federico) Higuain in Columbus, sometimes you just follow him and make him uncomfortable so he doesn’t get the ball,” Medunjanin said. “When they touch the ball so many times, they create chances. If you take them out, then some other guys need to make the plays and they aren’t comfortable with that. That’s what we’re trying to do with every team. Make them uncomfortable. Put other players on the ball who don’t like to be on the ball.”
Regardless of what the midfield strategy ends up being on Saturday, the goal is simple for the Union. They must take advantage of three games at home in the last four before the Concacaf Gold Cup break.
“We need to give 100, 150 percent every game to achieve results,” Medunjanin said. “That’s what we’re doing and hopefully we continue with that. If we continue with that, we have a good chance to win every game.”