BLAINE, Minn. – A year ago, recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon, it wasn’t clear what the future had in store for New York Red Bulls center back Aaron Long.
Now back at full health, the 29-year-old defender is in prime contention to make the likely-26-man roster the US men’s national team sends to Qatar for the FIFA 2022 World Cup.
“It'd mean everything,” Long said Monday on The Call Up’s live episode, should head coach Gregg Berhalter call his number. “It's every soccer player's dream to go to a World Cup. To be named on the roster would be amazing for me, for all of our teammates.”
Long very well could play alongside his fellow 2022 MLS All-Star center back in Nashville SC’s Walker Zimmerman. They’re both go-to players under Berhalter, with Long identifying his latest league recognition and international opportunity as two major motivators as he rehabbed.
“With the Achilles injury, it just made me want to work that much harder to get back in and to be a part of this All-Star group and to have a good season with the Red Bulls,” said Long, capped 27 times. “And hopefully I can put my name on the roster spot.”
Long, appearing at his first All-Star Game since 2018, said the selection validates that he's recaptured top form after spending nearly a year on the sidelines. Like any athlete, the stops and starts proved incredibly difficult.
“I think the hardest part was just the unknown at the beginning,” Long said. “It's like, 'What is this going to be like?' It was my first big injury. It's like, 'How am I going to feel in six months? Am I going to be as fast? Am I going to ever be the player that I was?'
“It's just so many unknowns and you have too much time to think about it because you can't do anything the first couple of months. You can't really do rehab. You just have to let the tendon heal, so you're just sitting there. It's just a lot of waiting around, that was the hardest part.”
While continuing to make his USMNT case, Long is also focused on helping RBNY ensure their spot in the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs. The club has qualified in 12 straight seasons.
RBNY hold the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference table, which Long credited to the group embracing an "underdog mentality" he believes will serve his team well for a potential postseason run. They're also strong on the road, their 7W-3L-3D record being second-best in the league.
"We're always put up against bigger rosters with bigger names and more expensive players, whatever it is, and we go into those games and we thrive," Long said. "On the road, it's so easy to get that underdog mentality and know that we're going to have to put our backs against the wall, fight every play. And I think that's when we're at our best."
"I mean, the playoffs are crazy," he added. "In the playoffs, I feel like it's rare that the No. 1 seed just ends up just taking it all. I feel like there's always some sort of upset, especially now with the one-off games and you don't get the home and away – there's a lot of upsets, and you never know who's gonna win. So, going into the playoffs with that underdog mentality, so to speak, is helpful."
For more from The Call Up, check out their full episode below.
Call Up LIVE from Minnesota: Featuring Adrian Heath, Walker Zimmerman & MORE!