Aaron Long will miss the rest of 2021 after undergoing surgery on Tuesday to repair the torn Achilles he suffered on Saturday in the New York Red Bulls loss to the Philadelphia Union.
The 28-year-old suffered the injury in the final minute of stoppage time on Saturday, as he jumped up for a challenge and suffered the injury when he went to plant his right foot and his Achilles ruptured, leaving him on the ground writhing in pain.
Here is a look at the play Aaron Long was injured on. The way he reacted when he tried to push off his right foot, and the aftermath, has the tell-tale signs of an Achilles injury. Really hoping it’s not. pic.twitter.com/J5iNw5CKDb
— Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) May 16, 2021
The injury is a devastating blow for both the Red Bulls and the U.S. Men’s National Team, which is set to compete in the Concacaf Nations League in June and will now have to do so without Long, who was projected to start in central defense alongside John Brooks.
Arguably the best one-on-one defender in the USMNT setup, Long had established himself as a regular starter under Berhalter, and wore the captain’s armband on multiple occasions. His ability to mark opposing team’s top strikers made him a good complement to Brooks, who is the superior passer, but not as quick and agile a one-on-one defender as Long.
Berhalter has several central defenders to choose from to try and replace Long, with Matt Miazga the frontrunner to start alongside Brooks. Miazga’s passing ability gives him an edge over fellow veteran Walker Zimmerman, though Miles Robinson provides a combination of sharp passing and strong one-on-one defending that makes him another good candidate to win the starting job.
Chris Richards is another contender, and widely-regarded as the future of the USMNT centerback position, but his lack of international experience might make the Nations League too early an assignment for the 21-year-old to undertake.
The injury is an even bigger blow for the Red Bulls, who will struggle to replace Long’s presence in the middle of the defense. Newly-acquired Colombian defender Andres Reyes has had a slow integration into the Red Bulls setup, and also had to overcome a recent minor injury, but Gerhard Struber will need the former Inter Miami defender to step up and give the Red Bulls more options to go along with Amro Tarek and Sean Nealis.
Long’s injury comes a year after he was the subject of multiple transfer rumors, with several English Premier League teams expressing interest in his services. The Red Bulls never received an offer they deemed worth selling their best defender though, leaving Long to wait for a potential move even as every other member of the 2018 Supporters’ Shield-winning Red Bulls defense moved on via transfers and trades.
Now Long will have to focus on his recovery and look ahead to 2022, when he will try to retain his place with the USMNT, and return to being one of the best defenders in MLS.
The Red Bulls return to action on Saturday with a road game against the New England Revolution.