Exclusive: Brenden Aaronson opens up about “The toughest year of my life” and getting dropped from the USA Men’s National team

Since joining Union Berlin on loan from Leeds United, Brenden Aaronson has struggled for game time and has been dropped from the American national team for the first time in his career.

In a wide-ranging interview, the young attacking midfielder provided an honest account of the “toughest year” of his life and how he has dealt with adversity.

Playing a number 10 role: “it felt right to me”

On Saturday, Aaronson put in his best performance of the season in a 2-1 victory against mid-table Werder Bremen.
Aaronson was key to setting up the first goal and finished emphatically to clinch the win for the second.

However, Aaronson has started just two games since October 2023. He highlighted how a change in position helped him feel more confident on the pitch.

“What I’m just trying to do is help the team and play my game, which I was able to play.

“I was comfortable in the position I was playing, which is between the lines and today I was just trying to find free space and break up the lines.

“It felt right to me, that’s how I’ve played my whole career and it felt really good today.

“Honestly, the last few weeks hasn’t come out of nowhere.

“I didn’t really get my chance after the first couple of games, I’ve had to be patient, learn the style of play.

“I wasn’t playing in position, it wasn’t the best but at 10 today, it makes such a difference. I had a free role, it felt good, it felt right and I was able to play my game.”

Fighting relegation again: “We weren’t in a good state”

After Union Berlin qualified for the Champions League for the first time in their history, they were quickly dumped out in the group stages.

Bundesliga form has followed European performances.

A run of 16 consecutive games without a win mired Union Berlin in a fierce relegation battle.

A recent upturn in form has helped die Eisernen slowly pull away but Aaronson admitted that it has been a testing time for everyone at the club.

“I think it has been difficult all season. The results don’t help, it has been tough.

“We weren’t in a good state mentally, a lot of losses and last season, I was in a team at Leeds where, when the team is down, there’s not a lot of energy and you’re losing games, the confidence goes down.

“In those moments, it’s hard to perform as a group.

“The last 8/9 games here, we are coming together and fighting for each other, which is what you saw today.”

Losing his sight in the first half: “I couldn’t see”

The win on Saturday lifted Union Berlin nine points clear of Bundesliga relegation but Aaronson admitted that he had partially lost his sight due to a chemical reaction in the first half.

“I came in at half-time and my pupils were dilated for some reason.

“I couldn’t really see the whole game, It was really strange, really hard.

“I had eye drops for my eyes, I had some vapour rub and then it just rubbed in my eye and I couldn’t see for most of the game.

“At half-time, I got it sorted a little bit and that helped but it was difficult. It was just a mixture of eye drops and vapour that you put on your jersey and my pupils are still dilated now.”

Linking up with Yorbe Vertessen

Aaronson’s match-winning performance coincided with a Yorbe Vertessen’s first goal for Union Berlin since joining from PSV.

The Belgium forward has struck up an unlikely partnership with the American and both were full of praise for each other.


“It definitely helps playing with Yorbe. I like playing with guys like that, they are able to connect, look up and link up with each other.

“It clicked for the first goal but we haven’t had much time together on the pitch. Hopefully, we get more time together.”


“Brenden is a really good player, he complements my kind of qualities, he fits well with me and the team.

“He is a really good player and at the moment, he is on fire. I like to play with him, and hopefully, we can score more goals together.”

On being (briefly) dropped from the American national side: “The toughest year of my life”

The performance came just a few days after Aaronson was dropped from USA national team.

Aaronson has played almost 40 games for America but head coach, Gregg Berhalter made the surprise omission as his side prepare for Jamaica in the first Concacaf Nations League semifinal.

It was the first time Aaronson has not been selected since his debut four years ago.

He acknowledged that the snub hurt.

“It’s been difficult getting dropped from the US team, it’s been the toughest year of my life.

“Going from relegation with Leeds and then not playing as much here.

“It has been mentally a battle all the time with yourself, staying confident, working on this and that.

“I’ve had to get over that mentally and physically. I’ve kept fighting and got stronger. I’ve been working hard off the pitch.

“But I have an amazing support system around me, my family and friends are always there for me, my girlfriend is living here now, which is making a big difference, so I’m lucky to have them.”

However, Aaronson was back in the USMNT squad only 24 hours later.

Following a last minute injury to Josh Sargent (right ankle), Aaronson received a late call-up for the 2024 CONCACAF Nations League finals.

Aaronson is proof that it’s never too late to find form.

On where his future lies: “I love this club”

Aaronson is on loan for the season from Championship side, Leeds United.

He was signed by the Yorkshire side for £24.7 million from RB Salzburg in 2022 and his contract still has over two years remaining.

With Leeds top of the league and eyeing an immediate return to the Premier League, Aaronson will have a tricky decision to make when the Bundesliga season concludes in a few months time.

However, Aaronson was effusive of his time at Union Berlin:

“I mean, my future depends on the rest of the season.

“I love the club here, I can’t talk enough about how great they’ve handled me and how great all the guys are in the team, I love it here and I want to keep going on like this, get more minutes.

“I feel good here.”

And tonight?

“It’s just me and my girlfriend at home so I think we’ll go to a movie tonight, maybe we’ll go see Dune 2 but my girlfriend is not really into movies that much so we’ll see how that goes.”

Whether Aaronson got the chance to see Dune 2 or not, Saturday’s performance shows that he is still a box-office player with a bright future.

GGFN | Oscar O’Mara

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