My 3 Thoughts on Leeds United-Wolves
Premier League's Team America completes a stirring comeback to win 2-1, with Brenden Aaronson in a starring role
Leeds United and its American contingent—coach Jesse Marsch and players Brenden Aaronson and Tyler Adams—began their Premier League campaign with a 2-1 win at Elland Road on Saturday. Here are my three thoughts on the game:
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• Aaronson had a great start to his Premier League career. The 21-year-old winger from Medford, N.J., ended up not getting the credit for the game-winner in the 74th minute (off a well-constructed build-up started by Adams)—it was ruled an own goal by Rayan Aït-Nouri—but it was still a huge moment for Leeds to complete the comeback from a dispiriting early 1-0 deficit. It was a fitting culmination for Aaronson’s performance on the day; he was a bundle of energy from the start while adding plenty of quality in the right moments. In a pure example of MarschBall, Aaronson helped win the ball in the box and quickly turn it into Leeds’s equalizing goal in the first half finished near-post by Rodrigo (on an admittedly poor bit of goalkeeping by José Sá). Aaronson is one of those rare players who seems to get visibly better almost every time he plays, and he’s a great fit for Marsch’s system that values high-energy defenders who can turn into high-vision attackers in an instant. Can Aaronson thrive in the Premier League? Oh, yes, he can.
• Marsch’s Leeds is more Red Bull than the Red Bull teams at this point. The system is more about what you do without the ball than with it, so Marsch won’t care that Wolves had 61% of the possession to Leeds’s 39%. Leeds still had 12 shots on Saturday (to 15 by Wolves) and four shots on goal (to 6 by Wolves). But Marsch will want to do better on chance creation than the 0.76 xG that Leeds had (to Wolves’ 1.46). Truth be told, Wolves might have deserved a tie based on their overall performance, including in the second half when they had more control than in the latter stages of the first half. Marsch will want improvement in the coming games (especially on set pieces, which should be a Marsch team strength and weren’t on Saturday), but it’s already clear that the Leeds players are buying into his system more than his Leipzig players did last season. It helps that Adams will be playing a central role and has been familiar with Marsch’s system since he was 15 years old at the New York Red Bulls. Getting an important three points out of the home opener at Elland Road will help with the Leeds supporters and give LUFC something to build off as it pursues better performances down the road. But the energy? The energy was there.
• You can see why Leeds still needs to add a striker and left back in this transfer window. When I visited Leeds last week Marsch was clear with me that they need a striker and left back (they lost out to AC Milan on center-forward Charles de Ketelaere), and that was clear on Saturday as well. Pascal Struijk is not a natural left back and had some shaky moments there, and while Bamford had a good game—and his just-onside positioning and cross on the game-winning goal were sublime—Leeds will need more depth and quality in that position. You can’t help but feel like the higher-end teams in the Premier League will have the quality and precision to take more advantage of their opportunities than Wolves were today. Some of that can’t be helped if you’re Leeds, which will be a mid-table team at best this season, but mid-table would be a godsend for a team that barely avoided relegation last season. Three points to start the season is key for a team that will be followed ever so closely by U.S. fans this season.
What are your thoughts on the game? You can join the discussion in the comments below.
The BBC commentators said Aaronson was the MOTM, which is great validation for him. The WC is months away, but given how he seems to improving before our eyes, I wonder if he's going to carve out a major place on the US squad.
Why do I feel like Aaronson might ultimately be a better prospect and player than Pulisic. He truly does get better every time I watch him, the backdrop does not seem to matter. It’s been cool to watch.