A flurry of rumors on Thursday linked New York Red Bulls center back Aaron Long to a potential loan move overseas as signs point to continued delays to the Major League Soccer season.
According to Steven Goff of the Washington Post, the 28-year-old defender - currently training in Florida with the United States national team ahead of a friendly against Trinidad and Tobago this weekend - has received an offer from Reading of the English second division. Tom Bogert of MLSSoccer.com followed up by stating other English clubs as well as French teams were hovering around Long as Europe’s transfer window rapidly reaches its conclusion on Monday. This profile of suitors matches with the transfer frenzy around Long in summer of 2019, when West Ham United and Olympique Marseille were among the clubs that came closest to meeting New York’s valuation of the 2018 league defender of the year.
Following that summer the rumors around a potential Long transfer died down as the Red Bulls’ form suffered and the COVID-19 pandemic severely hampered the global transfer market. But as labor conflict sees Major League Soccer facing the potential of even further delays to the beginning of its 2021 season, players seeking to remain in the national team picture such as Long (and Seattle striker Jordan Morris, who moved to Swansea City on loan last week) are being forced to consider opportunities to play overseas during an interval without a clear end in sight. Transfers of such nature should be familiar to American fans who witnessed national team stalwarts such as Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey pursue similar winter loans in European leagues during past extended MLS offseasons.
However, Goff’s report that the Reading offer included a permanent transfer option would conflict with the premise that Long is moving in a short term bid for match fitness. Red Bulls fans would hope that in such an event the club would get something close to the reported $8 million fee that West Ham balked at in 2019, and the difficulty of such complex negotiations so late in the transfer window (especially with a smaller budget club like Reading) makes the likelihood of a permanent deal low.
But the Red Bulls now have a new sporting chief in Kevin Thelwell, who may feel less inclined to play hardball as the club continues an overhaul of the squad recently entrusted to new head coach Gerhard Struber. Once the poster child for New York’s development pipeline after evolving from a reserve midfielder to a world class center back in a matter of two seasons, Long is now a veteran with a high salary cap hit as well as one of the increasingly few players from the 2018 Shield-winning team still remaining after his central defensive partner Tim Parker was traded to Houston last week.
While there are only four days left to shake hands and send faxes before Monday’s deadline, Long’s desire to prove himself at a higher level and earn the last big contract of his career might be dovetailing perfectly with the new regime’s desire to build a squad in their image. A quick departure for Long in the next week would be unexpected but should not be shocking.