Aaron Wheeler started one league match last season.
In all, he logged a total of 129 minutes.
But on Saturday, the six-foot, four-inch Wheeler was rewarded with a start at centerback and played a full 90 minutes in a 1-1 draw with the Montreal Impact at rainy PPL Park.
While Wheeler was disappointed in the result – thanks to a match-tying goal by Marco Di Vaio in the 80th minute – he was generally pleased with his performance. Being able to start and stay on the pitch for 90 minutes certainly meant a lot to the ever-improving Philadelphia Union centerback.
“It’s great, everyone wants to play,” Wheeler said. “If you are a professional athlete, you should be happy. I am excited right now. I am trying to hold on to my job. It is hard to get a job in this league, but it is even harder to keep it so I am trying to do my best to contribute to the team.
Wheeler came into Major League Soccer as a forward, but towards the middle of last season and solidified during preseason, he has been converted to centerback.
Doesn't matter. As Wheeler has said numerous times, he views himself as a soccer player.
And he’s thrilled to be given this opportunity to play and start.
His solid play found him on MLS' Team of the Week and as Wheeler will attest, he's starting to like the notion of being included among the elite.
“I don’t want people to look at me as a converted forward,” Wheeler said. “I want people to judge how they judge the other centerbacks in the league. I want you to be judged as a centerback and that is the position that I am playing. I don’t need any soft critics. I am just going out there and trying to do things to the best of my ability.”
Wheeler played a strong all-around game, but he was a bit miffed by Di Vaio’s goal.
“He’s a world class player and he got one opportunity,” Wheeler said. “He is doing what he’s paid to do which is finish the ball. An unlucky deflection that loops from what you think is an impossible angle. Unlucky, but it is what it is.”
There’s nothing unlucky about Wheeler’s rise to the starting lineup. He has clearly put in the work and the results continue to show.
Wheeler isn’t sure exactly what the future holds. This much is known: he’ll continue to work like crazy every single day to prove his mettle.
“I don’t want to be known down the road as the guy who came in and played a couple of good games,” Wheeler said. “I want to be known as the guy who plays hard and stayed consistent through the season. Like every player, I want to play. It’s great to be out there, but I feel like I have my best soccer in front of me. I have so much more to show. I’m looking forward to taking that next step.”
While Wheeler is working hard, he’s also leaning on his teammates. Very smart move from a poised young player.
“I talk to Amobi (Okugo), Austin (Berry), Brian (Carroll), anybody I can think of,” Wheeler said. “There are so many great resources here that I can talk to. I’m going to take in all the information I can and use it to help me get better.”
What do you think of the play of Aaron Wheeler? Leave a comment below.
Contact Union writer Andy Jasner at firstname.lastname@example.org