Senior Aidan O’Neill didn't play at New Trier until the 2023 season, but that didn’t stop him from enjoying enviable soccer experiences.
He traveled to England and Scotland, spending summers preceding his sophomore and junior years getting looked at by professional teams. Locally, he played club and built his name and reputation to become a highly sought-after college recruit.
That left no time for the Trevians, though he knew many of the players and took in their games when he had the chance.
Eventually he was pulled into their orbit.
“The brotherhood was so strong,” he said.
Even the top teams long for that missing piece. O’Neill filled that role at New Trier.
In 2022, the Trevians’ otherwise brilliant team was felled in a supersectional shootout loss against Stevenson.
New Trier failed to score in the 80 minutes of regulation and two 10-minute overtime periods.
“You think about Aidan’s game, and how skilled he was, so that was the kind of situation where we could have used him,” senior defender Kevin Farina said.
O’Neill was aware of the chatter.
“I definitely heard it from my friends before, but from what I saw of the team, there was so much talent and heart,” he said.
Before the start of this school year, O’Neill had a scholarship to Northwestern in hand. The moment to come home to his school team never felt so acute.
The senior made his only season of prep soccer count in the most meaningful way possible by leading the Trevians to the Class 3A state championship.
His creativity and dynamic ball movement sparked goals four minutes apart as New Trier took a 2-0 lead 17 minutes into the final. The Trevians increased their lead before posting a 3-1 title match win over Lyons on Nov. 4 at Hoffman Estates High School.
O’Neill’s ability to finish, his shot creation and distribution created a next-level elite threat that optimized the New Trier attack.
He finished with team bests in goals 20 and assists (nine) as the Trevians (23-1-2) captured their third state championship and first since 2008.
For his accomplishments, O’Neill was named the Chicagoland Soccer 2023 Player of the Year.
He earned the award over fellow nominees: Oak Park and River Forest senior forward Easton Bogard; Hinsdale Central forward senior Luca Davies; Naperville North junior forwards Noah Radeke and Jaxson Stokes; Lyons’ senior defender Collin Sullivan; Benet senior defender Nick Roe; Notre Dame (Peoria) junior forward Kayden Hudson; and Crystal Lake South senior midfielder Nolan Getzinger.
With the possible exception of basketball, soccer is extremely dependent on chemistry, cohesion and fit to make a team come together.
O’Neill was not an interloper who altered the team dynamic. He was immediately welcomed into the larger team fabric.
“It was a pretty seamless transition,” O’Neill said. “I’ve known a bunch of the kids on the team for a long time now, especially a lot of the seniors. I think I’m pretty outgoing.
"I like to always have my friends over on the weekends when I’m not playing soccer, or spend time with my family when I’m not on the field.
“In terms of fitting in and chemistry, everything connected pretty well. The way we were able to play together and work with each other definitely helped us.”
O’Neill’s malleable game elevated the team.
“I think of my style as very clean, and I like to be as much of a playmaker as possible,” he said. “Whether it’s my vision, my passion, taking a shot or just being a playmaker, those are my best qualities and how I’d describe myself.”
Whether playing high-level club or high school ball, the game is the same, but there are some differences.
“The main difference is that high school is more back and forth, like more of a basketball game, where one second you’re on defense and the next you’re on offense,” O'Neill said.
“Academy is a slower and more methodical approach.”
The 5-foot-10 midfielder's game is built on movement, explosive speed, vision and balance.
O’Neill is the third of four brothers from an athletically skilled family. Velocity is a family trait.
His father was a track athlete. Two older brothers also ran track.
His nearest brother in age, Ronan, was a standout soccer player and runner for the Trevians. He is now a sprinter at Villanova.
O’Neill got the chance to experience trials with two European soccer clubs during the two previous summers.
In the summer of 2022, he had a trial run with Stoke City F.C., of the European Football League Championship division. The summer before his senior season he had a trial with Scottish Premier League member Hibernian F.C.
Those experiences provided a new dimension of the game: the speed of play; the physicality; and how to accelerate decision-making.
By the start of his senior year, O’Neill was sharp, prepared and dialed in. New Trier was the beneficiary.
“I love scoring goals and getting assists,” he said. “That’s obviously a big part of the game.
“I’m not the tallest kid in the world, but I’m pretty fast, and that part of my game definitely fits my body type more.”
O’Neill helped offset some of the Trevians' graduation losses from the supersectional team of the previous season.
The team's magical run to the championship encountered a perilous stretch midway through September.
In the five-day period, New Trier tied Hinsdale Central and Maine South sandwiched around its only loss off the season, a 2-1 defeat to rival Glenbrook North.
The Trevians rebounded with a 3-0 win vs. Deerfield and then traveled to Evanston to play against its red-hot archnemesis on Sept. 21.
The Wildkits, who started the season 11-0-0, scored in the third minute and left New Trier scrambling.
O’Neill countered with a penalty kick goal in the 25th minute that sparked a two-goal explosion in 21 seconds en route to a 3-2 victory.
“That was a very special game, just seeing how far our team would go to win a game like that,” O’Neill said. “When I saw how much it meant to everyone on the team, that definitely showed me we had a chance to do something really special.”
The turning-point and statement victory propelled the team to its 16-game season-ending winning streak.
The next stage of O'Neill's young life and career is playing close to home on the North Shore.
Soccer will continue to be all-consuming.
“I tried to teach myself the guitar, but I just never had time,” O’Neill said.
“It’s hard to pick up a hobby. Soccer takes up a huge part of my life. The game has been great for me.”