By now, most are aware of Aaron Long's incredible journey. But that doesn't make it any less remarkable.
Selected in the second round of the 2014 SuperDraft by the Portland Timbers, Long didn't make his MLS debut until 2017 with the New York Red Bulls, his third MLS club after making appearances for four USL teams. In that year, he immediately became an integral member of the Red Bulls back line before taking another jump last season by being named 2018 MLS Defender of the Year.
The calendar has flipped once more, but Long's ascension has yet to lose steam. The 26-year-old was given the captain's armband for the US men's national team in a 3-0 win over Panama Sunday, in what was just his third cap.
“I tried not to think about it too much, but it’s really an honor,” Long admitted after the match.
Interestingly, in his debut as UsMNT coach Gregg Berhalter opted to entrust Long with the honor rather than stalwart Michael Bradley, who joined Long in the starting XI and had accrued more caps than the rest of the January camp members combined.
“I was in a similar situation one time, and no one spoke to me,” Berhalter said of his decision. “I said to Michael, I was very clear to him. I said ‘listen, you look at the roster and you’d be the logical choice for captain, but we’re not going with you, we’re going with Aaron and here’s why we’re going with Aaron.’”
Long partnered with Walker Zimmerman at the heart of the defense with Nick Lima to their right and Daniel Lovitz to the left. The fullbacks were making their international debuts, while Long and Zimmerman previously had a combined six caps, though the quartet earned a shutout against a young Panamanian squad.
“If you look at it (in terms of appearances) … it’s almost scary in a way,” Long said. “It’s a new back line and I don’t have many caps, but we’ve been together for three weeks. The team is getting closer and really confident with each other. ... I felt really confident with the group.”
Long and the USMNT close out the January camp on Saturday against Costa Rica (3:30 pm ET | FS1, UniMás, UDN) from Avaya Stadium.
Ted Prezelski contributed reporting to this article.