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Philly MLS 25: Stephen King was the original Medford Messi

A legend in South Jersey, King played five seasons in MLS with the Chicago Fire, Seattle Sounders and DC United



As we count down the days until the MLS season begins, we will be looking at 25 players from greater Philadelphia who have made an impact on the league 25 years after the first ball was kicked. Read the rest of the series at

Far from the most imposing. Not the biggest player on the field. Not the strongest. Not the most physical. Still the easiest to find.

That’s the description Courier-Post staff writer Michael Radano used to describe a teenage soccer phenom at the time from Medford, N.J.

That was 20 years ago.

The player, it could be argued now, was the original Medford Messi, a moniker given to Brenden Aaronson by fans when he started making waves with the Philadelphia Union.

Aaronson was just a toddler when Stephen King, or “Kinger” as some called him, was tearing up the South Jersey soccer scene as a standout both for the Medford Strikers and Shawnee High School.

By the time he was heading to the University of Maryland in the fall of 2004, King had a couple of New Jersey state titles with Shawnee, New Jersey player of the year awards from Gatorade and United Soccer Coaches and a staggering number of wins with both club, which also included a spell with FC Delco, and school (a 99-5-3 record in his four seasons) under his belt.

With the Terps, King was a model of consistency, leading head coach Sasho Cirovski to say he would “go down as one of the all-time greatest players at Maryland. His feel and knowledge of the game are tops on the team.”

King fell to 40th overall in the MLS SuperDraft (a common theme among the players we’ve been highlighting for this series) but ended up become the second Shawnee grad (Jeff Zaun was the first) to make it to MLS, making 20 appearances all off the bench as a rookie. His time in Chicago ended after one season when the Seattle Sounders picked him up in the 2008 Expansion Draft.

King’s time in Seattle was short but memorable.

His extra time goal sent the Sounders to the final of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and despite not dressing for the final he played a big role in the Sounders first trophy of their MLS era.

The Sounders won the Open Cup in 2009, 2010 and 2011 but King only got to play in the first cup run after being traded to DC United for a second round draft pick.

Dave Clark had this to say about King for Sounder at Heart before the trade: “Another dynamic young (23) talent with plenty of upside left to show. King played every midfield role for the Sounders in league play during the past season 3 of his 7 appearances were as a starter. More importantly though was King’s performance in the US Open Cup and its qualifiers where King scored 3 goals.”

DC ended up being King’s longest stop of his professional career.

In two seasons, he made 27 appearances and 12 starts for D.C. but he was released after the 2012 season. He finished his MLS career with more than 2,500 minutes logged in league play, three goals and an assist not counting the aforementioned three Open Cup goals.

In the end, he didn’t quite live up to the promise in a league with limited options but he still managed to leave his mark on the Open Cup and pave the way for future players from Medford to make it to MLS and beyond.

He now lives in California and works as a director of professional services for a customer and employee experience management company in San Francisco.

Matthew Ralph is the managing editor of Philadelphia Soccer Now / Brotherly Game. He's covered soccer at all levels for many years in the Philadelphia region and has also written for, NPSL, PrepSoccer and other publications. He lives with his wife and two young children in Broomall, Pa., but grew up in South Jersey and is originally from Kansas.

Copyright © 2024 Philadelphia Soccer Now and Brotherly Game

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