Paxten Aaronson: USMNT star's teenage brother on a similar path to the top

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It was Christmas in the Aaronson household, and, as expected, a young Paxten Aaronson was going to war against his older brother Brenden. Holiday or no holiday, the competition doesn't stop between the pair and on this occasion, the contest was a game of soccer. As the rest of the family prepared dinner upstairs, the battle in the basement got fiercer.

Paxten and Brenden were going back and forth, exchanging goals until, finally, the younger Aaronson got a bit of luck. Paxten's shot deflected off of Brenden and into the back of the net, breaking the tie and sealing the win.

Inevitably, Brenden didn't take losing to his younger brother particularly well.

"He came up to Christmas dinner and was so mad, he punted the ball and broke the light," Paxten Aaronson tells GOAL. "My dad and mom came down there so aggravated because it was Christmas, you know?

"It's supposed to be a time of happiness and the entire dinner he was just sulking because he lost to me!

"It was always really intense between us. We would never have a full fist-fight, but we would get into some wrestling matches.

"And it was the same with all sports, like ping pong – we were so competitive in that. Around the holidays, I always got the better of him in that, so he would freak out.

"He beat me one time and I threw my paddle and hit him in the face!"

It's safe to say that Brenden has done well for himself since that soul-crushing loss in his parent's basement. The 21-year-old is now a U.S. men's national team star and recently completed a £25 million ($31m) move to Leeds United, fulfilling his dream of making it to the Premier League.

But he is not the only member of the Aaronson household making waves for club and country as Paxten, at just 18, is already emerging from his brother's shadow to write his own story.

The younger Aaronson recently starred for the U.S. Under-20 men's national team, scoring seven goals in seven games at the 2022 CONCACAF U20 Championship.

Five of those goals came in the knockout rounds, with Aaronson netting twice in the 6-0 trouncing of the Dominican Republic in the final.

His efforts helped the U.S. earn spots at the U20 World Cup and the Olympics, with the midfielder claiming both the Golden Ball and Golden Boot awards.

"They're still getting shipped," he says of the trophies. "They didn't allow me to bring them on the plane because they were too heavy and I didn't feel like paying the extra money. They're shipping them now to my house, so hopefully, they get here in one piece!"

It was a true coming-out party for Aaronson, who was one of four Philadelphia Union stars to shine for the U.S. in the tournament.

He was joined by longtime team-mates Quinn Sullivan, Jack McGlynn and Brandan Craig, with the four Union stars combining to score 15 goals.

It was Aaronson's first big moment at international level, but one he had been building towards for some time.

Despite all of the ping pong contests, soccer had always been king in the Aaronson household.

Every weekend the Premier League was on TV, as the younger Aaronson quickly found himself supporting Liverpool.

His idols weren't just limited to Anfield, though, as he fell in love with Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla and Luka Modric just as much as Steven Gerrard.

His selection of those players is telling. A true No.10, you can see bits and pieces of those players in his game as he develops into one of the top young playmakers American soccer has to offer.

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He played basketball, baseball and lacrosse growing up, trying out every sport he could, but he always found himself coming back to soccer.

If basketball practice and soccer practice conflicted, there was only one winner. Naturally, though, the competition wasn't limited to organized games.

"My dad introduced the game to me from a very young age and having my brother alongside me to always compete with and always train with helped me a lot," Aaronson says. "It was about having fun and not just being alone.

"Sometimes training alone gets kind of boring, so always having someone to bounce ideas off of and just train with when I was young was really great."

Aaronson, like his brother, began his career with the Union's YSC Academy and played his way up through the Union's elite-level talent development system.

He played for the club's reserves in 2020 and signed a homegrown deal in August of that year, before making his senior debut in 2021.

And, since that debut, he has shown exactly why those in Philadelphia are so high on him. He scored the MLS Goal of the Week in his first career start, and finished his debut MLS season with three goals.

Naturally, the comparisons to his brother came quickly.

They, quite obviously, look alike and move in the same way. They're both extremely talented on the ball and both play with ridiculous amounts of energy, a trait probably honed in those basement games.

There are differences, though.

While Brenden has primarily been used on the wing or as a No.8, Paxten is definitely more of a No.10. He is smooth on the ball and, in some ways, a bit further along than his brother was at the same age.

And that is partly due to the younger Aaronson having had the benefit of seeing where his brother initially struggled, so as to avoid making the same mistakes.

"When my brother first joined the league, he found it really hard to get shots off in the box and get good goal-scoring opportunities, so my dad thought it was really important that I work on my ability in and around the box," he explains.

"He saw my brother struggling with it and he was like, 'Alright, well clearly he's struggling with it so we need to work on this with you.'

"I remember that off-season or that summer when he was struggling, all we did was work on finishing. My dad did a lot of research and we would just strictly do finishing for like an hour, just getting confident with it.

"I had that time ahead of him to really get good at it and perfect the technique and perfect the quick shot so I had a little bit of a head start on him.

"It was kind of like a blessing in disguise. He was struggling but I took his struggle and kind of developed that into my game."

It wasn't just watching his brother, though, as Aaronson had his own foundational experiences growing up, including how to deal with his lack of physical presence.

"I was always the smallest person on the field, no matter what," he says. "I was always the one whose jersey never fit. It looked like a mop on me, always dangling around!

"I could get tugged easily, so from a very young age, I had to learn how to perfect my technique, perfect my touch, keep the ball where defenders can't poke the ball away from me.

"I wasn't a big kid who could always run around and tackle people, but I was quick to the ball. I was really fast. It was controlling what I can control and my dad always said, 'Your time will come when you grow and when you do grow you'll be that much better.'"

That time is now, as the 5'9 (175cm) Aaronson is starting to find himself in MLS.

Due to his commitments with the U.S. U20s, he hasn't played nearly as much this year with the Union, who sit atop the Eastern Conference, but he is certainly expected to play a part in their play-off push.

"I want to win a trophy with the Philadelphia Union," he says, "just because it's my boyhood club, and that would mean everything: to be able to lift the trophy for the city with this club."

How long he will be at his boyhood club is anyone's guess. His brother's former club, Red Bull Salzburg, have already been linked with a move for the teenager, but they are far from the only European club watching on.

There is also a chance that the Aaronsons may line up together for the national team someday.

There's also the small chance that they line up against each other as they both continue their own club careers. If that does happen, there will, hopefully, be no fistfights or paddle throwing.

It's quite clear, however, that Paxten isn't looking to be the next Brenden and follow his brother's footsteps or surpass the lofty expectations put on him because of his last name.

"I've never thought of it like that," he says, "because it's my brother and we have such a good connection.

"I'm never gonna be competitive like that towards him, like 'Oh, he's better than me', and all that. No, I'm always happy for his success. I'm happy for what he's doing.

"And I think I've done a good job of blocking all that stuff out. My brother's done a good job of it too.

"Like my dad taught us, block that stuff out and just focus on yourself because, at the end of the day, it's your career and you've got to focus on yourself."

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