Amongst the excitement of any US player heading overseas, there’s always a tremor of trepidation (I’m usually anti-alliteration but here we are). This angst is sure said player will fail, and will cast a pall over any future Yank moving to that team or even that league. We’re probably past that, given the amount of Americans now all over Europe. But those scars from the past don’t heal quickly.
It grows to all-out fear when it comes to England and the Premier League. One, it’s the toughest league in the world, and lots of really good players can’t hack it there (see: Werner, Timo). Second, it still feels as if English fans and the press are still the most heavily slanted against Americans simply because they’re Americans. Any slip up from a Christian Pulisic or now Jesse Marsch as a manager and they can’t wait to pounce and mock and declare just how silly we are for attempting to either play, manage, or even watch their beloved association football.
Some of it is born out of xenophobia, and some of it is understandable anti-Americanism (given some of the American ownership in the league already). Some of it is jealousy, as deep down they know that most likely, there will come a time when the US is better at it than they are (could be as soon as November 25th!).
This is why we’re all watching Leeds United closely, because the team is managed by Marsch and two of their biggest signings this summer were Brenden Aaronson and Tyler Adams. Both are not just Yanks, but almost certainly starters in the USMNT’s best 11 come the World Cup. Not only do they need to be playing, but they also need to be playing well. There are already enough question marks in spots in the lineup filled by players who may be in or out of their club’s lineup (goalkeeper, Pulisic, right-back, one or both to the No. 8s in midfield, I’ll stop now as my eye started twitching). Aaronson and Adams should, and kind of have to be, sure things.
And the knives will be out quickly if they don’t hit the ground running. Thankfully, based on the admittedly not-nearly-enough sample of Leeds’s opener, we probably shouldn’t worry. And that’s because both like to do their fair share of running.
Aaronson especially is clearly going to ingratiate himself to Leeds fans simply through sheer effort. Watching Leeds on Saturday, you kind of wondered if Aaronson hadn’t gone Turbo and was just appearing from different television screens and teleporting all over the field. If you were watching at a pub with multiple games on, you half expected him to go running from one TV screen into the next one and just appear in Newcastle v. Nottingham Forest before turning around and returning back to the screen he was supposed to be on.
Aaronson’s stats for the match against Wolves certainly show a guy who just never stops. He had the second-most touches for Leeds in the attacking third. He carried the ball farther than anyone else on the team. He had 31 pressures, seven more than any other player on his team. He had the second-most pressures in the attacking third, and tied for the most pressures in the middle third. So yeah, if you thought he was running around like a kid with a lifetime supply of pixie sticks, your eyes weren’t lying.
Oh, and he scored…kinda…
But he certainly had a heavy hand in Leeds’s equalizer, and he did it how he does most things, by just playing with more energy than anyone else:
This is Aaronson perfectly summed up. He’s not especially gifted with the ball at his feet, though far from clueless either. He does have an eye for a pass. But he opens things up for himself by simply being more active, causing turnovers and mistakes, and then taking advantage of the space when the defense is unsettled or simply getting to a spot quicker and more determined than his defender. And he’s usually doing the unsettling. For a team like Leeds, that doesn’t figure to have the ball more than their opponents most of the time — and Marsch’s tactics aren’t really built on having the ball a lot as much as moving it up the field as quickly as humanly possible and winning it back in the same fashion, Aaronson fits perfectly.
Adams was no less active, second on Leeds with five tackles and eight ball recoveries, while being far tidier than his American teammate with the ball, completing 85 percent of his passes to Aaronson’s 57, though most of Adams’s dishes were short and in midfield, where Aaronson is attempting to connect in the opponent’s third or penalty box.
Effort is going to buy any player a lot of time with their fans. While Aaronson is taking the spot that used to be filled by Raphina, he can make up for the deficiency in a flair that the Brazilian specialized in by graft. Sure, running around a lot without an end product will lead to being made fun of and eventually derided. Fabio Borini ran around a lot, after all. If you don’t know who that is…exactly. But if that effort and pressing lead to things and chances, and goals, then everything is okay.
Both Aaronson and Adams have given themselves time and rope with just one game. Long may it continue.