USMNT: Paxton Pomykal, Brenden Aaronson the ideal competition

USMNT, Philadelphia Union, Brenden Aaronson (Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos/Getty Images)
USMNT, Philadelphia Union, Brenden Aaronson (Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos/Getty Images) /

Paxton Pomykal and Brenden Aaronson represent a new kind of attacking midfielder. Their dual developments in MLS is the ideal competition for the USMNT hopefuls.

Over the past decade, football has changed at a more foundational and defined level than in any period since. The tactics of the game have been overhauled, the various approaches of different teams have evolved drastically, and the roles and responsibilities of the players have altered as a result.

Without delving into too much detail, from a very broad spectrum, players must now be more well-rounded than ever before. Strikers must press high, defenders must be comfortable in possession, midfielders must be able to tackle and deal with the ball under pressure, full-backs are like wingers and winger are like centre-forwards, and even goalkeepers will be judged by how they can kick a ball.

In midfield, this has placed new demands on the qualities on the players, especially the attacking, creators. They can no longer just provide value via their ingenuity and invention in the final third. They must press, track runners, break up play, cover space with increased athleticism, and also create and score goals — think the difference between Kevin de Bruyne and Mesut Ozil.

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The U.S. Men’s National Team has two young prospects built in this modern mould. Both Paxton Pomykal and Brenden Aaronson are starting regularly for their respective MLS teams, FC Dallas and the Philadelphia Union. They are attacking, creative midfielders by trade, excelling in the pockets of space in between the defensive lines, receiving passes on the half-turn, and then dribbling forwards, shooting at goal or sliding passes into teammates. But they are also well-rounded as modern football requires.

Pomykal, especially, is as effective defensively as he is with the ball. Last year, the midfielder averaged 2.8 tackles per 90 minutes, 1 interception per 90 minutes, and, perhaps most encouragingly, he committed 1.3 tackles per 90 minutes, a clear illustration of his snapping, aggressive, combative style. He did this while creating 1.8 chances per 90 minutes and maintaining an 86.5% pass completion rate.

Aaronson has this same all-encompassing style. His performance in the Union’s enthralling 3-3 draw against Los Angeles FC earlier this season was the perfect illustration of this. He scored, he played several sliding through passes to release Union counter-attacks, but he allied this with a grit and gristle that creative midfielders do not typically possess.

Quite what will come of Aaronson and Pomykal remains to be seen. At 19 and 20 respectively, they still have a lot of developing to do. There is no reason to crown them the next great USMNT midfielders just yet, and they certainly need to ply their trade in Europe before they can be considered on a similar level as the likes of Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams, the two leading midfield lights in the USMNT.

But the competition between the two will undoubtedly be a positive for the USMNT moving forward. They will push one another, and with the likelihood that only one can hold down a starting role in the USMNT in the 4-3-3 shape that Gregg Berhalter seems to have nailed down, they will be competing for the same role in the squad and starting XI.

Next. USMNT: Top 3 players to build future upon. dark

Pomykal and Aaronson represent the modern-day evolution of football. They are players perfectly suited to the tactical evolution of the game, and they will push one another to the USMNT and beyond.