For the U.S. Men’s National Team, the goal in its final two friendlies of 2018, against England and Italy, will be to put in positive performances against two of the world’s most iconic teams. For New York Red Bulls centerback Aaron Long, the hope will be to continue growing as an international player, while also proving that he can be a player for Dave Sarachan’s youthful squad.
Long has been called into his third consecutive camp by Sarachan, after what has been a stellar season in Major League Soccer. Unlike other players who may have taken the path to Europe to get noticed, Long worked his way through the lower leagues in the U.S. before getting his chance to shine in 2017 with the Red Bulls. A former USL Defender of the Year in 2016, Long has continued to take positive steps following his jump to MLS.
Two seasons and 65 impressive starts later, Long has become one of the rising defenders in North America by also helping the Red Bulls to a place in the Eastern Conference Finals later this month against Atlanta United. Winning the 2018 MLS Defender of the Year continued what has been a rapid ascension for Long, who now aims for a place in Sarachan’s XI in the coming week.
“It means a lot,” Long said. “It is judging your body of work for the full season. It shows that I am on the right path, helping my team, doing what I can to help the team win.”
With many names being tossed in the mix as the starting centerbacks for the USMNT, Long’s fight will need to continue in a pair of tough international friendlies. John Brooks and Matt Miazga are the expected starters, but after his sensational domestic season, Long is certainly putting his name in the hat to be chosen. His transformation in just a three short years with the club has paid off big, with the defender continuing to get a shot with the National Team.
“They [Red Bulls] really gave me a belief in myself and helped implement me into the system since Day One,” Long said. “I mean they were calling me into the office to do film with me knowing there was going to be a learning curve. This club has really taken me under their wing and let me blossom under their tactics.”
After winning his first cap against Peru back in October, Long now needs to take that next step of growth on the international scale. He is a smart defender who helped the Red Bulls to a league-fewest 33 goals allowed and 14 shutouts in 34 regular season matches.
The likes of English Premier League stars Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, and Dele Alli will be rearing to get after this youthful USMNT, as they continue what has been a great rejuvenation under Gareth Southgate. For Long, he will need to continue to do what has made him successful in MLS while also learning as much possible from international veterans.
Out of the 10 defenders called in by Sarachan, Long will face some stiff competition for playing time, but his impressive showing against Peru, and continued excellent form in MLS, should give him a good chance to earn more national team minutes.