Long misplayed a tough ball back from midfielder Tyler Adams in a sequence that sparked Maxi Moralez's 85th-minute game-winner in New York City FC's 1-0 triumph over the Red Bulls on Sunday night at Yankee Stadium. It was an unfair end to an otherwise tremendous night for Long, who won nearly all of his duels and influenced a Red Bulls backline that faced a lot of pressure and chances in the game’s opening 45 minutes.
For 84 minutes, it was another rock-steady performance in a season full of them for the 25-year old center back. And despite Long's role in the deciding goal, newly appointed Red Bulls coach Chris Armas emphasized just how bright he believes the center back's future could be.
“Aaron, I think, is going to be a national team player," said Armas, who himself earned 66 caps for the US national team, mostly at defensive midfield. “He keeps getting better, he keeps improving. He’s a competitor, he’s a winner. We’re lucky to have Aaron. He put out so many fires for our team. One of those times you just appreciate the work he does. Even tonight, he was solid.”
In his second year starting for the Red Bulls, Long has been among the best central defenders in the league and recently earned a selection to the 2018 MLS All-Star Team.
Originally a midfielder in college, Long transitioned to the backline upon joining New York Red Bulls II in 2016, after being cut by both the Seattle Sounders and the Portland Timbers. Last year, he made his senior team debut for NewYork in the Concacaf Champions League and has been one of the team’s starting center backs ever since.
Despite taking a knock in the first half of Sunday night’s loss, Long and the entire backline coped well as NYCFC held the majority of possession. The Red Bulls looked out of sync in the opening 45 minutes, and Long credited NYCFC for a game plan that “unbalanced us a little bit today.”
After surviving those sequences, Moralez's winner was particularly heartbreaking following a second half when the Red Bulls carried much of the play
“Tyler played a ball, it’s a tricky one, I think. If I step to it early, maybe I can just clear it out,” Long said. “It’s just one of those balls that’s right between me and the forward. I think he’s going to touch, he thinks I’m going to touch it. Then it ends up crossing through my legs for a tap-in. It’s unfortunate all around.”