EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – New York Red Bulls center back Aaron Long has been part of the past two US men's national team camps, but his international debut was elusive. For FC Dallas right back Reggie Cannon, this month marked his first call-up.
Both found their breakthrough at the senior international level on Tuesday night, playing key roles in a 1-1 draw with Peru at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field as part of a U.S. backline in which three of four defenders were making their USMNT debuts.
“When the curtain raises, you hope they’re tuned in and don’t get too nervous on the occasion,” US head coach Dave Sarachan said about his young defense. “I thought there were some moments where there was some indecision and nerves, but as the game went on it got better."
Long took a winding, unconventional road through American soccer’s various levels to reach his current leader. He rose in prominence at the University of California Riverside, and was originally drafted by the Portland Timbers in 2014.
His next home was the Seattle Sounders’ USL team, but things really took off with Red Bulls II in 2016, also in USL. Since then he’s earned his way into a starting role at RBNY alongside Tim Parker, and was even named to the MLS All-Star Team this past summer.
On Tuesday Long, 26, was paired next to youngster Cameron Carter-Vickers in the heart of the USMNT defense; afterward he said his debut is yet another chapter in his – and the team’s – growth.
“It’s just another building block,” Long said. "We’re not where we want to be yet, but we know where we want to go. That’s a big emphasis in the locker room, that we’re always building forward and always looking for the next step."
The same can be said for Cannon, who has arguably been one of the best right backs in MLS throughout the 2018 season. Signed as a Homegrown Player after a brief stint at UCLA, spent much of 2017 learning the ropes of life as a professional.
Now 20, he was recently named No. 7 on MLSsoccer.com’s 22 Under 22 list and finally has his first cap under his belt.
“That first 45 minutes, my head was kind of spinning,” Cannon said. “You have butterflies, nerves, all of it. The second half I took a deep breath and realized why I’m here. I got a great feel for the team, great feel for the players and that second half came out flying. I’m very happy to make my debut."
One cap won’t satisfy Long or Cannon – though firmly cementing their place in the national team won’t be easy.
Long has to rise to the top of a center-back pool that includes the likes of John Brooks, Matt Miazga, Carter-Vickers and others. As for Cannon, DeAndre Yedlin has long held down the right back spot, and youngster Shaq Moore and veteran Eric Lichaj are also in contention.
The hope for both, however, is the Peru match is the start of an extended run.
“Playing with these guys, Michael Bradley, Brad Guzan, guys who have 100-plus caps, you take it back with you and learn to excel your game more,” Cannon said. “I can’t wait to go back to Dallas and get better.”
Added Long: “The more you take care of business with your club team, the more you get chances like this. It starts there and you come here, and these are the special nights where you get to show off and play for your country.”