On Tuesday, the New York Red Bulls announced Damien Perrinelle would be out for four to six weeks with a meniscus injury, while subsequently adding that Connor Lade's season is over as he has torn his ACL. When one adds this onto the fact that Gideon Baah's broken leg means he is also done for the season, the Red Bulls are set for a bit of an injury crisis in defense.
With Lade going down, Kemar Lawrence and Justin Bilyeu are the team's only fit leftbacks, while Sal Zizzo and Chris Duvall are the team's only fit rightbacks. At leftback, Lawrence is just coming back from a major layoff, while Bilyeu has only seen a total of 209 minutes of action for the first team in all competitions. At rightback, Zizzo and Duvall have platooned for most of the year with neither impressing. Connor Lade looked set to win the rightback position as Lawrence returned to leftback only for Lade's ACL to scuttle that plan.
Meanwhile, at centerback, Perrinelle and Baah's injuries, along with Karl Ouimette's loan, means that the team's only available centerbacks are Aurelien Collin and Ronald Zubar. Chris Duvall has featured in a few games at centerback earlier this year but didn't exactly set the world on fire.
As it stands, New York is only one Ronald Zubar quad pull and one Kemar Lawrence suspension away from starting a backline of Justin Bilyeu, Aurelien Collin, Chris Duvall, and Sal Zizzo, while having no defensive depth on the bench. Without reinforcements, it is entirely likely that Tyler Adams, a 17 year-old, may end up forced into service in the backline. Tyler Adams has not player either centerback or rightback regularly played for the better part of two years.
The New York Red Bulls maintain the right to recall Karl Ouimette from his loan in Jacksonville, but Jesse Marsch and Ali Curtis have expressed hesitance to that in the past. They do not need to either.
Enter Aaron Long.
Back in preseason, Aaron Long came into camp after being cut from Sounders II, the Seattle Sounders, and the Portland Timbers in the prior two years. SII observers described him as solid but unexceptional. It looked unlikely that the 23 year-old would stick with the team. As preseason came to a close, so did Long's time with the first team, but New York wanted to keep him around. At the time Jesse Marsch described Long as, "(Having) a lot of good qualities. We're trying to use him at center back, but he's got a lot of good soccer in him. He's got the flexibility to play different spots. He's athletic, he's got good feet." Shortly after, Long was offered a contract with New York Red Bulls II, an offer which he accepted.
In the USL this year, the entirety of NYRBII's league-best defense has impressed. The team has the best goal differential in the USL and has let in the second fewest goals at 17. However, none of the defense made more of an impression than Aaron Long.
Shifted around constantly from leftback, to rightback, to centerback, and back to rightback, Long put in solid performance after solid performance. In a position that doesn't usually allow one to shine, Long has.
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His versatility is unquestionable, and his time as a midfielder in college and professionally appears to have served him well as he looks composed and skillful on the ball, allowing him to excel in New York's high-pressure system. On top of that, Long's familiarity with New York's system as well as their first team players make his potential adaptation time minimal to noneexistant.
Aaron Long is capable across the backline, strong in the tackle, positionally adept, calm on the ball, and confident going forward. He is communicative, adaptable, and hardworking. He is, quite simply, the perfect replacement for the injury-ridden New York Red Bulls.
For a player previously described as "unexceptional", Long has quickly become a leader for New York Red Bulls II. As it stands, he is the best defender on the best defense in the USL. Frankly, he's MLS level at this point. He may not be a superstar, but he could certainly be New York's David Romney.
The coaching staff sees it as well. Aaron Long was the only NYRBII player to make the bench for New York's CONCACAF Champions League game against Antigua. While he did not play, his presence says that Jesse Marsch and Ali Curtis know what they have in him.
With the transfer window closed, the window to sign Long may appear to gone as well, but it's not. MLS teams can sign players from their direct USL affiliate at any time, just as they could sign a player on a free transfer. Either that, or the New York Red Bulls wished to, they could sign Long on a short-term emergency USL loan, of which they have four of per season.
In summary, the very point of USL affiliates and NYRBII is to make players ready for the first team when they are needed. A defender is needed and Aaron Long is certainly ready.
New York Red Bulls II continues to impress in the USL this year, in no small part thanks to Aaron Long, and as the first team in New York is looking for defensive reinforcements, they needn't look farther than Long.