OBETZ, Ohio – They may not be the most glamorous players, but there is no doubting they get the job done. And that's why Columbus Crew rookie Aaron Schoenfeld admires German star Miroslav Klose and former US national team and Crew forward Brian McBride for their aerial exploits.
“They’re unbelievable in the air,” Schoenfeld said. “Any chance with a header they’re putting it in.”
But if not for a growth spurt his junior year of high school, Schoenfeld today might be talking about emulating the play of someone such as Crew midfielder Eddie Gaven.
“I went from 5-8 to 6-3,” said Schoenfeld, who has since grown another inch and weighs 190 pounds. “I played outside mid before [growing]. It’s hard to imagine that at this point. I don’t like to dribble the ball at all anymore. I just like to be a hold-up player.”
The Knoxville, Tenn., native has quietly been one of the Crew’s best acquisitions this year after being released in the preseason by the expansion Montreal Impact.
Schoenfeld has made five appearances and got the start over returning leading scorer Emilio Renteria at Philadelphia on April 14.
“He fights for every single ball,” Crew head coach Robert Warzycha said. “He is very good with both feet. He basically works, works, works. He has good size.”
Schoenfeld earned his first MLS point on Saturday against Houston when he entered as a substitute and assisted Gaven’s second goal by chesting the ball back to him.
“Aaron did very well,” Gaven said. “He worked hard and created a lot of problems for their backline. He did a great job on the second goal battling and fighting.”
It was the type of play that Schonfeld, 22, said didn’t come easy after the sudden change in his frame.
“When you grow up that fast a lot of injuries happen,” he said. “I wasn’t very coordinated. I wasn’t very good at soccer for a year. I didn’t have any high offers from any big schools. I’d say that played into it a little bit. I just wasn’t used to my body back then.
“In my later years in college I started getting used to my body and understanding more my role as a big man."
Schoenfeld attended East Tennessee State University, where he had 20 goals and 10 assists in 72 games. That led the Impact to select him in the second round (20th overall) in the 2012 MLS Supplemental Draft.
He was let go in early March and invited to train with Columbus. He signed on March 23 and made his debut off the bench the next day against Montreal.
Now, with a season-ending injury to fellow big man Tommy Heinemann, Schoenfeld looks set to become a vital cog in the forward rotation.
His ascension up the depth chart has left him only a little time to contemplate that he is playing on the same field as his idol McBride, whom he’s never met.
“Sometimes it’s almost surreal but at the same time you’ve got to know you’re job is about getting better and helping the team,” Schonfeld said.