On Friday the USSF announced an MLS-heavy roster for the non-FIFA calendar-ed December 18 friendly scheduled against Bosnia and Herzegovina in Kansas City. Included in the group of 26 players called up by US head coach Gregg Berhalter was two New York Red Bulls — defender Aaron Long and, as of now, Germany-bound attacking midfielder Caden Clark. This will be Clark’s first call-up, while for Long it marks his first attempt at game action since a Achilles injury suffered in a league match against Philadelphia in May.
After not being selected for US youth teams prior to his MLS emergence, Clark has gained attention from the national team program in recent months. Earlier this summer prior to an appendectomy that derailed his MLS season, Clark was named specifically by Berhalter as someone he was “really looking forward to working with” ahead of the 2021 Gold Cup. Last month, the Minnesota native appeared for the under-20 team in the 2021 Revelations Cup down in Mexico. His two caps for his country saw him start against Brazil and Colombia and wear the captain’s armband during the latter game. Clark also scored his team’s lone goal, a penalty kick, against Colombia in a 1-1 draw, the only game which the U.S. left with points during the competition.
The 18-year-old Clark had an up-and-down sophomore season in Major League Soccer. His 2021 began much like his 2022 ended, with highlight reel goals. Under first year head coach Gerhard Struber, Clark remained a consistent starter for the Red Bulls in the season’s early months before the aforementioned appendectomy sidelined him for a month during the team’s summer slump. His fitness and form only began to show signs of recovering to the heights of his rookie campaign in the season’s final weeks, and whether or not he will actually play for his new club RB Leipzig after the new year is reportedly still up in the air. A Bild report on Friday claimed the Minnesotan will be “trialed” at the Bundesliga side before a decision is made on whether to loan him out — potentially back to New York.
Long has over 20 previous appearances with the USMNT dating back to 2018. Following his breakout year in 2019, with 14 appearances and three goals across two major competitions and friendlies, the 29-year old found himself on the wrong side of time. The COVID-19 pandemic severely cut down on any international matches happening in 2020. While he did get two starts in late year friendlies the overall direction of the team had begun to change. Berhalter’s vision was of a younger squad, with the average age of the team sitting around 24 for World Cup Qualifying. That has left the California native as a semi-regular in friendlies but on the outside when it comes to major competitions. His last non-friendly appearance was a November 2019 trouncing of Cuba in CONCACAF Nations League group play. If played against Bosnia, Long will make his first USMNT appearance since March 25 earlier this year.
In the league, 2021 was exceptionally quiet for Long in Harrison as well, but not by choice. A ruptured Achilles tendon suffered against Philadelphia in May ended his season after only five games. That loss was heavily felt by Gerhard Struber and a young Red Bulls team who in the interim haphazardly moved players into his centre back position with varying degrees of success. Long had begun to reappear doing light training with the Red Bulls during the seasons final weeks and following months of rehab, the team has already exercised an option on Long following 2021’s conclusion. An appearance for Long affirming his fitness would not only ensure Berhalter can rely on more center back depth going into a World Cup year, it would also allow the Red Bulls to plan their 2022 squad more clearly - including whether or not transferring a now-fit Long could be in the best interest of both parties.
Players will begin reporting to camp this Sunday in Carson, California. Bosnia and Herzegovina are coming in following a failure to qualify for either the 2022 World Cup in Qatar or the UEFA Second Round Qualifying playoffs. The team is ranked 61st in the world in FIFA’s November rankings while the U.S. is ranked 12th.