For Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie, lifting the Supporters’ Shield in 2020 turned out to be good practice for the future.
Each former Philadelphia Union homegrown ended his first season in Europe with more hardware for the trophy cabinet: Aaronson won the league and cup double in Austria with Red Bull Salzburg and McKenzie took home the Belgian Cup with Genk. The pair then joined the U.S. Men’s National Team on their dramatic run to win the Concacaf Nations League.
Now that Aaronson and McKenzie are back in Europe for the start of the new season, let’s take a trip across the pond to see how the Union’s first homegrowns abroad are faring.
After notching five goals and five assists in the Austrian Bundesliga last year, Aaronson continues to contribute to Salzburg’s success. With his team currently 6-0-0 in league play, Aaronson is a regular starter at attacking midfielder, and on the rare occasions he doesn’t start, he’s often the first player off the bench. He’s already notched another assist and continues to be a vital contributor in Salzburg’s offense. Oh, and he scored the winner in a friendly against Barcelona. Not a bad way to kick off the season.
While McKenzie started Genk’s first four games of the season at center back (including a loss to Club Brugge in the Belgian Super Cup), his role has become less certain of late. In the team’s last two games, he was brought on as an 80th minute sub against OH Leuven and a 91st minute sub against Anderlecht as he looks to break back into the starting XI.
McKenzie didn’t see any playing time during Genk’s 4-2 aggregate loss to Shaktar Donetsk in the third round of Champions League qualifying, but Aaronson proved to be a key contributor to Salzburg in their Champions League playoff against Brønby.
After giving up an early goal in the first leg, Salzburg struggled against the bunkering Brønby defense. But Aaronson proved to be just the player they needed to break down the Danish side, entering at half time and using his creativity to open the game up. After an Aaronson shot was saved by the Brønby keeper, Salzburg’s Karim Adeyemi scored on the rebound to equalize. In the waning moments of the game, Aaronson slipped through the Brønby back line to score a 90th minute winner.
In the second leg, Aaronson proved just as valuable. When an errant pass by the Brønby keeper put the ball at the feet of Salzburg’s Benjamin Šeško, Šeško slid the ball to the onrushing Aaronson, who fired home Salzburg’s second goal of the night.
Aaronson and McKenzie have both been called up for the USMNT’s World Cup Qualifying matches, where they hope to repeat the success of their Nations League run. After this round of qualifying fixtures, they’ll return to domestic league play and European competition, with Aaronson and Salzburg taking on Sevilla in the Champions League group stage and McKenzie and Genk meeting Rapid Wien in the group stage of the Europa League.