Aaron Long has won the 2018 MLS Defender of the Year award.
Several players who have played for the New York Red Bulls or MetroStars have won the award in the past, but Long is the first to win it while an active player for RBNY (or MetroStars). The 26-year-old center-back was ever-present for his team this season, appearing in all 34 of the Red Bulls’ league games, and starting 31 of those. RBNY allowed just 33 goals in the MLS regular season this year - the lowest goals against total in the league in 2018 - and shut-out their opponents on 14 occasions. And that defensive solidity backstopped an all-time best regular-season points total for RBNY: 71 points. The Red Bulls clinched the 2018 Supporters’ Shield on the last day of the regular season; appropriately, with a 1-0 win (over Orlando City).
For his part in the best-ever MLS regular season, Long won the respect of his peers (20.76% of the players’ vote for DotY), the league’s technical staff (25.47% of the clubs’ vote), and those whose business it is to watch MLS (33.33% of the media vote).
The award is merely the latest success in the recent career of man who arrived at RBNY looking lucky to have a career at all.
Long was drafted into MLS by the Portland Timbers in 2014, but was cut by July of that year after a couple of loan stints in USL. He was quickly picked up by Seattle Sounders but did not crack the first team and signed with the Sounders USL team for the 2015 season. He played a full season for Seattle Sounders 2, but was a free agent for 2016. A pre-season trial with RBNY resulted in a contract with NYRB II - the Red Bulls’ USL squad.
Generally regarded as a midfielder for much of his career to that point, Long was asked to adjust both the RBNY playing philosophy and a new position. He hasn’t looked back since.
Long’s transition from underwhelming journeyman midfielder to MLS elite center-back was not immediate, but it has been a remarkable story of success followed by success followed by success.
At NYRB II in 2016, he quickly established himself as one of the team’s preferred starters. That year, the Red Bulls’ II team established a new USL single-season points record on its way to winning the USL Shield and Cup. Long was named 2016 USL Defender of the Year and made the All-League First Team.
The reward for being the best defender on the best-ever (at the time; in 2018, FC Cincinnati obliterated NYRB II’s single-season USL points record) USL team was a shot at a starting role with RBNY. Long signed a first-team contract with the Red Bulls for 2017, and stepped straight into spot in the starting lineup that he hasn’t relinquished since. The 2017 season wasn’t the easiest campaign for RBNY, but Long proved himself more than up to the challenge presented by MLS. He was named the Red Bulls’ Defender of the Year at the end of his first season as an MLS starter for the club.
In 2018, in addition to his contribution to the best regular season any team has ever enjoyed in MLS, Long was in the starting lineup for the league’s All-Star game and won his first cap for the US Men’s National Team. And now he is the 2018 MLS Defender of the Year.
Congratulations, Aaron. Looking forward to seeing what you win next.