Champions League: USMNT's Aaronson shines in Red Bull Salzburg's draw with Bayern

Salzburg, Austria - It was so close they could almost taste it. The Red Bull Salzburg fans were on their feet, almost in shock at their team taking down a soccer giant in its first ever Champions League knockout game. Then Bayern Munich's Benjamin Pavard floated in a cross and it got brutally snatched away.

Chukwubuike Adamu watches his shot fly into the Bayern net as Red Bull Salzburg take the lead.
Chukwubuike Adamu watches his shot fly into the Bayern net as Red Bull Salzburg take the lead.  © Imago / Sammy Minkoff

With the clock ticking into the 90th minute and Salzburg leading the great Bayern 1-0, you could be forgiven for thinking this was just going to be one of those nights, when the most attractive narrative just takes on a life of its own.

But Bayern doesn't do attractive narratives – at least not twice in five days. So Pavard crossed, Robert Lewandowski attracted all the attention like a magnet, Muller flicked on, and Kingsley Coman sneaked in at the far post to make it 1-1 and save his side's blushes.

Coming off the back of a mind-bending humiliation in the Bundesliga, where tiny VfL Bochum slammed four fist-half goals past them in a 4-2 win, Julian Nagelsman's men really could have done with a more convincing performance at the Red Bull Arena. Instead, they got caught up in an end-to-end game played at 100 miles per hour against Salzburg's kids.

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One in particular caught the eye. Brenden Aaronson has been getting rave reviews ever since his move from the Philadelphia Union in 2020. After a display like this on the biggest stage, it's not hard to see why.

From the first whistle, the 21-year-old midfielder was at the heart of everything good about Salzburg's play. Haranguing Bayern's players with relentless pressing and darting past challenges, he got the crucial touch that put Chukwubuike Adamu through in the 21st minute. Adamu had only just come on for the injured Noah Okafor, but he needed no warming up, as he curled the ball perfectly past Sven Ulreich.

Again and again, Salzburg broke with pace against the stodgy visitors, who were slow in attack and extremely open in defense. It could and should have been 2-0 in the 80th minute. Four Red Bull players found themselves crowding a Bayern box with only three defenders, but Pavard hurled himself at Adamu's shot and cleared off the line.

Not long after, the French right back made his second big contribution to the game with that fateful cross, and Coman – who had admittedly threatened throughout the second half – poked home.

The Salzburg fans sat back down with their heads in their hands, ruing a historic missed opportunity.

The lineups

The player spotlight

Brenden Aaronson speeding past Benjamin Pavard as Red Bull Salzburg coach Matthias Jaissle watches on.
Brenden Aaronson speeding past Benjamin Pavard as Red Bull Salzburg coach Matthias Jaissle watches on.  © imago / GEPA pictures

Brenden Aaronson is clearly the real deal. If it wasn't clear before, it definitely is now.

He may not score or assist very often, but his overall value to Red Bull Salzburg's playing style is invaluable. No one created more chances than the young American during the game – and remember, this was against Bayern Munich.

This is a player with all the attributes that modern soccer demands and they were all on display on Wednesday: pace, technique, work rate, movement, and intelligence.

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"It's a dream come true to play on the biggest stage and to get a result like that," he told CBS Sports after the match.

There's plenty of talk about Aaronson getting his next big move this summer. Don't be surprised if you see him in the Premier League or – why not? – the German Bundesliga.

The big picture

Kingsley Coman celebrates his late equalizer as Bayern come away with a 1-1 draw.
Kingsley Coman celebrates his late equalizer as Bayern come away with a 1-1 draw.  © IMAGO / Sven Simon

This was no freak result. Salzburg has been building this project over years and years, establishing a consistent style of play and a philosophy based on youth. Head coach Matthias Jaissle is 33, which is ridiculous. So is his starting lineup's average age of 23. After failing in the Champions League qualifiers for what seemed like an eternity, the club looks right at home at this level.

Meanwhile, Bayern are not quite over that Bochum-induced wobble, but they are still undefeated on the road in the Champions League. Its all-time record now stands at 22, but won't occupy Julian Nagelsmann's mind too much. His team looked a bit lead-footed and the old defensive vulnerabilities are still there.

As unlikely it may seem for Salzburg to pull off a miracle at the Allianz Arena on March 8 – even as the away goals rule no longer applies – this tie is not quite over yet.

Cover photo: imago / GEPA pictures

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