USMNT ace Aaronson gambles World Cup starting spot on £25m Leeds move

Brenden Aaronson USMNT 2022
The versatile 21-year-old winger is considered one of the USMNT's top talents but he is by no means a certain starter at Qatar 2022

Brenden Aaronson is one of the U.S. men's national team's biggest stars. That is a fact.

Aaronson is also the second-most expensive American player in history. Also, indisputable, with only Christian Pulisic's $73 million (£57.6 million) move to Chelsea proving more lucrative than Aaronson's $30m (£25m) leap to Leeds.

What is questionable, however, is what the next six months of Aaronson's career will look like. The 21-year-old star has taken a big risk by joining a team that only narrowly avoided relegation last seaosn.

Article continues below

Of course, Aaronson's bold move is understandable. After all, there's a World Cup role to be seized between now and November, and the Premier League is the perfect place to prove oneself.

Heading into four summer matches with the USMNT, Aaronson is one of several USMNT stars jostling for playing time on the road to Qatar.

He's part of a winger pool that includes Pulisic, Timothy Weah and Gio Reyna – all players that battle it out in the world's top leagues.

And, by Gregg Berhalter's admission, Aaronson is also part of a midfield group that includes players like Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah and Tyler Adams – all players that, once again, battle it out in the world's top leagues.

That label will now apply to Aaronson, who has left Salzburg for Leeds in an effort to secure a starting spot in Qatar.

While his place in the squad is beyond doubt, his exact national team role remains to be determined as he heads into a vital period.

Under Leeds boss Jesse Marsch, he's well-placed to make a statement in the Premier League next season, as he's familiar with his fellow American's style of play, having played under him in Salzburg.

And, in a team like Leeds that will need wingers that can press and then create on the counter, Aaronson seems like a perfect puzzle piece.

However, at a club like Leeds, there won't be much time to adapt. They only barely survived relegation this season and were only able to sign Aaronson by avoiding the drop to the Championship.

Even if there is reason for optimism around the club due to a signing like Aaronson, Leeds could well find themselves scrapping at the wrong end of the table next season too.

That's the pessimistic view, though. The optimist will look at Leeds and see a coach that knows how to get the best out of his new signing, a club that can use the attacking juice, and a player that has proven more than ready to take that next step in his career.

“I talked to Jesse a little bit about it," Aaronson said. "The fans, they're amazing, and they're always going to support you.

"And while it's tough, maybe the media pressure and stuff like that, that's something I'm ready for. I want to challenge myself mentally and physically.

“I got a little definition about the player that Leeds want, and I think I fit that.

"They celebrate a tackle like a goal, and I'm going to be that guy that's not only going to be the creative outlet or the guy that's going to be playing I guess, the 10 or winger or whatever, I'm going to be the guy that's going to be working hard too.

"And I think that's what Leeds is.”

His ability to work hard has also made him a vital piece for the USMNT. With Reyna sidelined for nearly the entirety of World Cup qualifying, and Pulisic battling his own injury and form issues throughout the season, Aaronson asserted himself as a key cog.

Brenden Aaronson USMNT 2022 GFX

Indeed, he was arguably the USMNT's most vital player of 2021, scoring four goals throughout the year, including two in qualifiers.

Despite that, though, he faces an uphill battle to earn a starting role. After all, Pulisic is all but undroppable, as he remains the USMNT's posterboy and most dynamic attacker.

Reyna, meanwhile, may just be the American player with the highest ceiling, as the Dortmund star has only begun to scratch the surface of his potential.

And that leaves Berhalter with three options: to use Aaronson as an impact sub, to drop either Pulisic or Reyna, or to get creative.

On Tuesday, Berhalter hinted at the latter, saying he plans to start Aaronson in the midfield against Morroco.

In a friendly that offers the U.S. a chance to experiment a bit, Berhalter is going to do just that by pushing Aaronson central to see if there's a way to get three of his most dynamic attackers on at the same time.

“Yeah, I think he fits in both [a wing spot or a central spot]. We're going to play him in the middle to see how he does, use his mobility, try to get him between the lines,” said Berhalter.

“It'll be interesting to see what he does in the game.”

Regardless of how Aaronson does in the next few weeks, though, much will depend on his start at Leeds.

The first six months of the European season will be vital across several positional battles, with the goalkeeper spot, in particular, one to watch in the coming months.

Aaronson will have to adjust to a much tougher level of competition, break into Leeds first team and deal with the pressure of a massive pricetag, all while having one eye fixed on the World Cup.

“Seeing the number just kind of go up and go up was crazy,” he said of his transfer fee. “They see you and value you as this player and that's why I'm grateful for Leeds, because they value me like this, and they think that I can be a big player in the future and a big player for them now.

"So for me, it's a surreal feeling. But everybody has to deal with this kind of stuff. I believe in myself, and I believe that I can be worth that fee. And that I can help Leeds."

Aaronson will also believe he can help the USMNT escape what should be a tough group.

The U.S. will contend with England, Iran and one of Ukraine, Scotland or Wales in Qatar, meaning there's no certainty that their return to the big stage will be a fun one.

But, as he prepares for his big move to England, Aaronson is already setting his sights on taking down his new home in Qatar.

"We're not going to go to the World Cup to be a participant; we're going there to win," he said. "England's in our group, and we're going to try to win this game. So, I think that we have no fear and they should fear us.”

It's a quote that shows, perhaps, a new side of Aaronson, one that the general public hasn't fully seen before.

Aaronson, in the years since his breakthrough with the Philadelphia Union, has generally kept things simple, kept things humble, kept things airtight. He's been affable and personable, but never one to really stir the pot.

So, in some ways, the above statement is one that is slightly out of character for a player that has always let his game do the talking.

It's a policy that's served him well but he will have to make some even stronger statements on the pitch in the coming months if he is to arrive in Qatar as a certain starter for the USMNT.