"Small steps" lead to big results for Red Bulls defender Aaron Long

Aaron Long - 2018 - closeup

CHULA VISTA, Calif — Unlike some of his teammates at January’s US men’s national team camp, Aaron Long has not taken the direct road into the squad.

He was waived by the Portland Timbers halfway through his rookie season and was picked up by the Seattle Sounders less than a week later. He failed to make an impression and after not making the team in 2015, spent the next two years in USL. Finally, in 2017, he saw his first MLS action with New York Red Bulls.

A year later he was named MLS Defender of the Year.

“Looking back is good,” Long told MLSsoccer.com after training Wednesday at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center. “It just reminds me of how far I came, but it’s all about the next micro goal I can set for myself, the next small step that I can take in the right direction and then looking back in another year, hopefully I’ve taken a couple more steps. It’s just all about the small things.”

Those “small things,” didn’t go unnoticed, evidenced not just by Long receiving his first call-up in September under interim coach Dave Sarachan, but in the new USMNT boss’s praise of the 26-year-old center back. He made his first appearance with the national team in October against Peru and made a second against Italy the following month.

“I love guys that have had that commitment to hang in there and persevere and take unusual pathways,” Gregg Berhalter said of Long. “It’s the same mindset of not being satisfied until you reach the absolute top and even then you’re not satisfied.”

Long has earned so much deserved recognition last season for shepherding the Red Bulls’ stingy backline, which conceded a league-low 33 goals en route to winning a third Supporters’ Shield in six years, that rumors have begun to swirl about possible interest abroad.

“Right now I’m under contract with the New York Red Bulls,” he said when asked about his future. “My agent will handle all things outside of that, but as I’m under contact with the Red Bulls, my next goal is Supporters’ Shield, MLS Cup, Open Cup. MLS Champions. That’s what I have my mind on this year.” 

Asked whether he imagined the route he’s already travelled — and the one he may travel in the coming years — when he began his professional career, Long provided a glimpse into how he made it happen.

“Of course, you watch Premier League games and you think ‘Wow, I would love to play there one day.’ You watch German games or Champions League games and you think [the same]. You watch national team game and think ‘Wow, I would love to be there.’ I can see myself on that field, but it’s not as realistic,” Long said. “I think I was more focused on taking the next small step. From Red Bull II, I needed to make the Red Bull first team before I could make the next step. Now that I’m on the first team at Red Bulls, how can I make the national team? Now that I’m on the national team, how can I secure myself as a starter here? It was the small steps but I’ve always dreamt of those big things."