As Gregg Berhalter trotted out the youngest United States side in a January camp match in a friendly against Costa Rica, the eyes were on many younger players. Fans and analysts alike were focused on the debuts of Ulysses Llanez, Brenden Aaronson and Sam Vines, but many seemed to forget about the man captaining the team, Red Bulls center back Aaron Long.
Long has been a revelation in American soccer since being acquired by the Portland Timbers in the second round of the 2014 MLS draft as a central midfielder.
Long was released fairly quickly by Portland, but eventually signed with the Seattle Sounders. Long did not play in the latter half of the 2014 MLS season and was eventually sent to the USL to play with Seattle Sounders 2 where he would become a center back.
The move would change Long’s career path. Long was signed by New York Red Bulls 2 after one season with Sounders 2, and he anchored one of the best defenses in the USL before earning a call up to the senior side.
Since his call up to the Red Bulls, Long has arguably been the league’s best center back. In Long’s rookie season, he started 30 games and was one of the Red Bulls’ most consistent players.
Long’s second season was his breakout year. The former midfielder was named an MLS All-Star and Defender of the Year after starting 31 of 34 appearances. Long’s dominant 2018 season eventually led to him earning his debut for the United States National Team.
He continued his dominant form in 2019, but also proved his importance on the National level time and time again. Long was a very consistent defender for the United States and has proven to be a crucial part of the team as they hope to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.
With Long’s growth comes attention, and he has gotten it from teams across the pond. Sky Sports recently reported (via MLS.Com) that West Ham offered the Red Bulls $500,000 to acquire Long on loan for the rest of the season with a $4.5 million option to buy him afterwards.
Brian Dunseth also reported that West Ham made an offer for Long back in July, and Sky Sports reported in November that Southampton had been given a chance to sign the defender.
Sky Sports has also reported that Long has a $6 million release clause in his contract.
As the interest from Europe keeps coming, the temptation will get increasingly difficult to resist. Long has achieved almost everything he can from an individual standpoint, and he firmly dominates MLS opponents at this point. For Long to keep growing as a defender, it may be time for the former Timbers reject to head abroad.