On Sunday, Leeds United avoided financial disaster by staying in the Premier League, beating Brentford FC in London. Another year of Premier League soccer guaranteed that the club would be able to hang onto most of their star players after a disastrous season that saw the club fire Marcelo Bielsa, the legendary manager who had become a cult figure at Elland Road.
While at least one or two players may leave, the club will not have a repeat of 2004, when the club went into a tailspin that resulted in two relegations, bankruptcy, and a series of dodgy owners. Bielsa cemented his legendary status at Leeds by not only leading the club back into the Premier League after 16 years two seasons ago.
Thursday, the club made the long-rumored move for former Philadelphia Union player Brendan Aaronson. The RB Salzburg player was strongly linked to come to Leeds in the January transfer window, only for the Austrian club to refuse to let Aaronson leave before the end of the season. RB Salzburg won the Austrian Bundesliga, faced off against Bayern Munich in the Champions League, and finally relented and let the USMNT player make his move to the Premier League.
Of course, Aaronson will not be the only American at the club. Former MLS player and New York Red Bulls manager Jesse Marsch is now the manager at Leeds, having done what seemed impossible only last week. By avoiding relegation, Marsch now has an opportunity to shape the squad, and appears that Aaronson is part of his plan.
Don’t be fooled by the fact that Aaronson played for Marsch at Salzburg or that an American manager is bringing in another American: Aaronson had been a long-term target that predated Marsch’s appointment at Leeds. Leeds Director of Football Victor Orta and Bielsa had previously wanted to bring in Aaronson and that desire did not change with the new manager in place.
Marsch has had very little opportunity to implement anything resembling his preferred tactics or plan at Leeds, with the club being desperate to simply pick up enough points to avoid the drop. Marsch has tried to have Leeds play in his preferred narrow 4-2-2-2 formation this season, but circumstances have prevented Marsch from having the team’s best players at his disposal. Sunday, the club played in a 4-2-3-1, with the club only utilizing one striker in the final day of the season in a must-win match, although a significant number of players missed out through injury and/or suspension.
Aaronson will likely play as an attacking midfielder in Marsch’s Leeds system. He will have to compete for playing time with another former MLS player, former New York City FC midfielder Jack Harrison. Other competition for Aaronson will be Wales international Daniel James and former Valencia attacker Rodrigo. There are a few other players who could be in line as well, such as former Wolverhampton winger Helder Costa, but Aaronson is poised to have a great opportunity to play a key role with the Yorkshire club next season.
However, barring a miracle, Raphina, the star Brazil winger who almost single-handedly kept Leeds up this season, will not be at the club next year. He has been linked with a big-money move to Barcelona and all signs point to him being off to the bright lights of La Liga and the Champions League.
Aaronson will be seen as a rising star, ready to take the next step in his career as well as help Leeds get back to a comfortable mid-table finish with dreams of European football rather than another nail-biting finish to the season.
A lot will be expected of him with the reported $30 million price tag, but there’s little reason to believe that the Medford, N.J. native won’t handle the jump with the same poise and determination he has at every stop along the way so far from South Jersey travel soccer to the Philadelphia Union Academy to the first team to Austria and the U.S. men’s national team.