Scoring your first career league goal in front of the Sons of Ben is the perfect script.
Just ask Aaron Wheeler.
The ever-improving 6-foot-4 forward entered the match in the 79th minute and scored in the 87th minute for the Philadelphia Union.
While the Union allowed a late goal from FC Dallas' Blas Perez in stoppage time for a 2-2 draw before 18,212 fans at PPL Park, Wheeler’s goal was a definite highlight on Saturday.
“To come here to Philadelphia and get the first goal, it’s ideal,” Wheeler said. “People dream about that. So it was everything it was cracked up to be. It was everything I hoped it would be.”
Wheeler maintained his poise as well as a 10-year veteran, especially entering a tight match such as this one.
What’s his secret?
“Just like anything, it’s all business once you go out there,” Wheeler said. “I’ve been playing since I was four years old. I just think this level is higher. It’s still the same game. I play soccer. I’m a soccer player, so it doesn’t change at all when I go out there.”
His life changed a little bit with that first career MLS goal.
When asked if he was keeping the ball that landed in the back of the net, Wheeler quipped, “I have no idea where it is.”
Now, that’s confidence.
Wheeler trains with confidence on a consistent basis. And he clearly plays that way, too.
“For him, it’s deserved,” said midfielder Danny Cruz. “He works extremely hard every day and he deserved to be rewarded for that. He put himself in a great spot and Sheanon (Williams) did what he’s been doing all year, he put a great ball in and great finish.
“He’s never someone who lacks confidence. He’s someone who continues to do his job every single day, whether he’s playing or whether he’s not. Hopefully, we’re going to see a lot more of him.”
Wheeler provided the game-winning assist to Michael Farfan in a 1-0 victory over Pumas UNAM in late March.
Given the chance to play, he nearly had another game winner against FC Dallas.
“It was great for Aaron,” Union manager John Hackworth said. “Great goal and obviously fantastic service. That ball from Sheanon, excellent ball. But Wheeler does great to get up and not only that, but he puts it down and towards the side netting. So excellent header from Aaron.”
In 2011, Wheeler was one of the trialists for the Union in the preseason. He ended up signing with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the North American Soccer League and played six matches before a knee injury derailed his season.
Last season, Wheeler signed with FC KooTeePee of the Finnish Ykkonen.
Fast forward to 2013 and Wheeler is a member of the Union. Not only that, he’s thriving.
“Repetition,” Wheeler said, referring to his success. “I just tell myself, ‘You’ve done this who knows how many times in the last five months.’ You just go out there and play. I just tried to tell myself, 'Go out there and be humble and work hard. If you work hard, good things will happen.' No one is going to question whether I’m working hard.”
With Jack McInerney headed for the CONCACAF Gold Cup and Keon Daniel playing for the Trinidad & Tobago National Team for the Gold Cup, playing time will be up for grabs.
“I like to think I’ve been auditioning since the first of March,” Wheeler said. “Any opportunity I’ll get, I’ll be very pleased. Jack going away, obviously its great for him, a great accolade to get a go for the U.S. National Team. If I’m able to help and contribute, that’s what I’ll do, to help the team while he’s gone.”
Wheeler is a versatile player who could be utilized at forward or on the backline. As long as Wheeler is on the pitch, well, that’s all that matters to him.
“I don’t care what position I play,” he said. “I’m a soccer player. Whatever it takes for me to get on the field, I don’t care.”
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Contact Union writer Andy Jasner at email@example.com