The U.S. Men’s National Team center back pair remains up for grabs in a busy 2021 year and Aaron Long is eager to continue making his claim for one of those starting spots in Gregg Berhalter’s squad.
Long is one of three MLS-based players called in for March friendlies against both Jamaica and Northern Ireland, which kicks off Thursday in Austria. The New York Red Bulls center back has become a regular performer since Berhalter took over in 2019 and has continued to remain as one of the top center back options in MLS and the USMNT pool.
With a new opportunity in front of him this week, Long’s goals remain the same at the international level.
“For me I don’t think anything has changed in the way I approach camps, I come in with the same intensity and the same drive, and just try to prove myself to the coaching staff,” Long said in a conference call Monday. “In terms of the competition and center backs here, there’s so many great players in that position, young players, old players. So I’m just trying to make my claim every time I’m here.”
Long broke onto the scene of the USMNT in 2018 under then-interim head coach Dave Sarachan and has remained in Berhalter’s plans since his first game in charge in January 2019. The 28-year-old has made 17 of his 19 USMNT appearances under Berhalter, featuring in both the Concacaf Gold Cup and Concacaf Nations League.
Long’s defensive ability and leadership on and off the field has made him a key player in the USMNT squad over the past two years, traits he hopes to continue with new faces in the mix.
“I am a veteran now and I am one of the older guys, so if there are questions that the young guys have, I’m definitely accessible,” Long said. “And especially with guys in my position, if they’re new to the camps, or they’re just getting started with us, I’m always talking, I’m always in their ear. I just think that the more we can all get on the same page, the better it is for a whole group. So yeah, I can definitely be one of those guys that can lend an ear and sometimes some advice if need be.”
Long, like many other players in the current squad, is trying to grab a starting role ahead of three different competitions for the USMNT. John Brooks remains the No. 1 option at center back after another strong season abroad, but Long is pushing to earn a spot next to the Wolfsburg defender.
“So looking forward to seeing John definitely,” Long said. “He’s amazing, he’s so good on the ball. I’d love to tell people about how good his left foot is. He’s truly a talent. I’m looking forward to getting to talk to him again and just keep building on these relationships that I have with these guys here.”
Long will soon be back with the Red Bulls ahead of the start of the 2021 MLS season, but will still hope to get several more call-ins this year. The USMNT is scheduled to take part in the Gold Cup, Nations League Final Four, and World Cup Qualifying this year, all competitions that they will be eager to deliver victories in.
While the friendlies against Jamaica and Northern Ireland will be another training exercise for now, its valuable experience towards the long-term plans in 2021.
“I think the mindset coming into this camp is we’re all looking at “the now” and we want to get to good results during this camp,” Long said. “But we know that this is a huge year for us. And everything that we’re doing right now is prepping us for Nations league. It’s prepping us for Gold Cup, and then most importantly, it’s prepping us for World Cup qualifiers, which is the overall end goal. So that’s in our mind every day. We don’t go a training session or a game without knowing that that’s the end goal.”