Off the field, Brenden Aaronson probably isn't all that different from his former classmates at Shawnee High School.

On the field, the 17-year-old Medford, N.J., native is quite unusual: a genuine American midfield playmaker, and the top prospect in the Union's academy.

Aaronson isn't fully professional yet. He has played 14 games on an amateur contract for Bethlehem Steel, the Union's minor-league USL affiliate, since making his debut in July of last year. He would have played more had he not suffered a broken collarbone in late April.

For the time being, he's on an amateur contract, so he can preserve his college eligibility for the fall of 2019. He has already committed to Indiana. But he's likely to be good enough for a pro contract before then.

Steel head coach Brendan Burke described Aaronson as "definitely one of the most creative midfielders — creative players in general — that I've seen come out of the academy. … His mind is always two steps ahead of the game."

Aaronson has been well-known within the Union's ranks for some time. He has played for the club's youth teams since he was 13, and left Shawnee after his freshman year to join the Union-run high school at YSC Sports in Wayne.

"They always wanted me to come," he said. "I just thought it was right to do one year of regular high school and then come to YSC."

It's a testament to what the Union are doing that Aaronson isn't the first creative player to rise through the Union's ranks. He's the second in just the last two years, following Anthony Fontana.

That requires a certain kind of coaching. The Union have it, Burke included.

"It is the hardest thing to do: to allow them the room to fail," he said.

Aaronson knows he has latitude that is rarely afforded to American youth soccer players.

"The coaches are really good here in the academy, all through it," he said. "They just tell you what you need to do in that position, and it's all about what your mentality is. You want to try stuff, you want to be creative on the ball … no problem."

What's next for him? More games with Bethlehem, and then, probably sometime next year, a decision to make. Aaronson said right now he still intends to go to college, but his family is "still trying to figure that out."

Burke respects that and doesn't want to get in the way but couldn't help admitting to wanting Aaronson to turn pro.

"I hope he decides to go in that direction," he said.

Whatever direction he takes in the short term, expect Aaronson's destination to be a place in the spotlight with the Union.