New role, same mindset for Union forward turned defender Aaron Wheeler

Aaron Wheeler never thought he’d see the word “multipurpose” used to describe his game.

But this season Wheeler has become the ultimate utility man on a revamped Union roster, making the shift to center back as opposed to target forward. Where he fits on the field is yet to be seen as the Union bolstered the center of its defense with the signing of former Chicago Fire defender Austin Berry, but Wheeler is just happy to be a part of the action and contribute.

During the Union’s preseason in Florida, Wheeler was used in the center back role and played solid in a pair of matches against Columbus and Toronto. His natural height and athleticism made him a monster in the air, getting above the opposition and clearing balls high and away from the 18-yard-box.

“I am really happy for Aaron because candidly when I told him we’d be making this change [from forward to defender] he said ‘I’ll do whatever you ask me to coach, but I just want you to commit to me the same way I am committed to you,’” Union coach John Hackworth recalled of a previous discussion he had with Wheeler. “He plays hard and deserves that shot. He’s shown rapid growth as a central defender and he’s learning the position, playing good entry balls into the midfield and has been a bright spot for us [this preseason].”

Wheeler is no stranger to dedicating himself to his craft. In 2011, he spent part of the year on trial in Philadelphia during preseason before playing for a season with FC KooTeePee in the Finnish first division. He returned to the States and was on trial again with the Union before being offered a bona fide contract and appeared in 10 matches for the Union last season, scoring a goal and adding an assist.

However, this season it looks if Wheeler makes the pitch, it will be to prevent goals instead of scoring team all while improving his game each day during training sessions.

It’s a notion that suits him just fine.

“It actually hasn’t been too big of an adjustment for me because we have been working this in since last June,” Wheeler said, who added he’d been taking recurrent reps in central defense for the major part of last season. Most notably, Wheeler started in the center back position against developmental affiliate the Harrisburg City Islanders last season and stood out from crowd.

And not because of his frame which currently stands six feet, four inches and weighing in at 200 pounds.

“Once Hack brought it to my attention that they were looking at me more as a center back, it was quite easy to make the transition. For me, it’s more so mental as far as it being a much bigger field of play that you are looking at, it’s not just collecting he ball and distributing it, you have to watch two, three, sometimes four different runs [from the opposition] happening and be ready to react. A lot thing happen before they actually happen in this position.”

On Monday, the Union resumed training at YSC Sports in Wayne and with that returned to one session per day stints. It was something Wheeler was looking forward to as this club continues to emulsify into a cohesive unit as a trip to take on Portland in the season opener looms in less than a week (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., Comcast SportsNet).

“As far as the work rate and effort, that’s all there,” said Wheeler. “Now that we get back into one training session a day, you are really going to see our legs come alive and the pressure and everything ramp up. With a week to go everyone is excited and getting that little boost in your legs to put in the work to make sure everyone is all collectively on the same page come March 8.”

What do you think about Wheeler’s “multipurpose” status? Leave a comment below.

Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at


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