New York Red Bulls fans hoping for clarity on center back Aaron Long’s future will have to wait.
The club’s captain is poised to enter MLS free agency ahead of the 2023 campaign, having played in 139 regular-season matches for RBNY, a long-term centerpiece of tying Seattle Sounders FC’s league record for consecutive Audi MLS Cup Playoffs berths (13).
Now Long, who recently turned 30 and will be out of contract, may depart for another club within the league or abroad. Head of sport Jochen Schneider doesn’t expect any clarity until after the 2022 World Cup, where Long is expected to be on the 26-man US men’s national team roster and may start alongside Nashville SC’s Walker Zimmerman.
“Before I arrived here, both parties tried to find an agreement to extend his contract, which did not happen,” said Schneider, who was appointed in June to replace Kevin Thelwell after his departure for EPL side Everton. “That happens sometimes in the world of soccer. Parties do not come together.
“Since then, he and his agent are moving on to check options and the same [with us]. We are checking options. Nothing is decided yet, so the most important thing now for him is to focus on the World Cup, to play as many games for the US. I wish he could play seven games. Then we'll see after the World Cup.”
Long earned MLS Defender of the Year honors in 2018, plus had a strong Comeback Player of the Year case in 2022 after recovering from an Achilles tendon injury he suffered last year. He’s also a two-time MLS All-Star selection.
Should Long depart, New York’s key remaining center backs will be Sean Nealis and Andres Reyes. That would create further impetus for offseason signings, with Schneider noting they “need to strengthen our offense” in the months ahead.
Still, there’s hope Long may return.
“He's not only a great player, he's also our captain and a fantastic leader in the locker room,” Schneider said. “He fulfilled his role 100 percent. So let's see what this situation will be after the World Cup. Then we can talk about if he stays what does it mean, if he won't stay is there room for other players. Let's see.”
All told, Schneider recognizes the desire to push for silverware next year. RBNY made the US Open Cup semifinals before losing at eventual winners Orlando City SC and finished fourth in the Eastern Conference table before getting bounced in Round One of the playoffs by FC Cincinnati at home.
He gave a strong voice of confidence to head coach Gerhard Struber, saying the Austrian’s under contract for 2023. Barring any changes, that’d be Struber’s third year at the helm.
“Overall it was a good season; it was not an outstanding season, for sure, when you lose the first playoff round,” Schneider said. “But I think most importantly, we were able to build a foundation for the next season.
“… I know fans are expecting more, they expected at least that we go to the next playoff round. So we know that we have to deliver in the future and we know which areas we have to strengthen our squad.”