Aaron Long took a winding and fairly unconventional route to MLS stardom and U.S. national team selection. And his journey can provide a useful – and inspirational – example to others, the All-Star center back said on Saturday.
Now taking part in his second consecutive USMNT camp Long is still awaiting his international debut and hopes to earn that first cap when the U.S. face Peru in an international friendly at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut on Tuesday (7:30 pm ET | ESPN2, UniMás, UDN).
“Things have been going really well. I've integrated myself well, the guys here are very nice and really easygoing, so it's easy to integrate with a young group like this,” said Long in an interview distributed by U.S. Soccer. “The group is vibing well. Even after the loss [to Colombia on Thursday], I think spirits are high and I think we're ready to go.”
It took several years, and no small amount of persistence, for the New York Red Bulls defender to reach his current level. Drafted by the Portland Timbers in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, the California native began his pro career as a central midfielder and struggled to catch on, going on two USL loan stints before the Timbers cut him loose that summer.
He moved on to the Seattle Sounders, where he played regularly for S2, their USL side, but never earned MLS minutes. The Rave Green did plant a key seed in Long’s development, trying him out at center back, but he parted ways with Seattle in 2015 and had to go on trial to earn a shot with the Red Bulls the following season.
That’s where his meteoric rise got underway. First he mastered the central defensive duties with RBNYII, winning USL Defender of the Year honors in 2016 as the team won USL Cup, then moved into an everyday starting role for the Red Bulls first team last year. By the middle of this season he was recognized as one of the league’s top center backs, starting for the MLS All-Star Team against Juventus in Atlanta and moving into the USMNT picture this fall.
“I would hope so,” Long said when asked whether other players can learn from his example. “The situation you’re in isn’t always the right situation for you. So the farther you grind out, going down the line and joining new teams, new coaching staffs and new players, you’re going to find your fit. And then you can take it to the top.”