Despite being apparently the fifth-best center back in Major League Soccer, Aaron Long was the only domestic-based defender selected by Gregg Berhalter for the United States team that will compete in friendlies against Jamaica (March 25) and Northern Ireland (March 28) in Europe later this month.
Currently training with the Red Bulls at East Hanover, Long will join up with the rest of the US team on March 20 and miss roughly two weeks of preseason action between national team training and travel quarantine protocols. The press release by US Soccer stated that Long would not be one of the several players who will return to their clubs following the Jamaica match due to the continued influence of COVID-19 on logistics.
Soon after establishing himself with the Red Bulls, where he won the 2018 MLS Defender Of The Year award as New York set a league points record, Long became a regular with the US team and is one of Berhalter’s most trusted defenders. The Red Bulls recently declined European transfer interest in Long (including temporary loan offers) due to his status as one of the squad’s key figures and will certainly be disappointed to lose the talismanic center back during crucial weeks of an already shorter-than-usual preseason.
But as we mentioned earlier this week, one of the burdens of possessing top talent in global football is the threat of international call-ups fatiguing, tactically re-adjusting and sometimes even injuring said talent. Long will likely be absent for much of the summer months as the USMNT engages in Nations League play and a July Gold Cup tournament. With only three senior center backs (Andrés Reyes, Amro Tarek, and Sean Nealis) on the roster besides Long, the crucial position has become perhaps the most thin in the New York squad, especially if new head coach Gerhard Struber plans on using a 3 or 5-man backline as he has in the past. Unless the club trusts Tarek (or potential makeshift center back Mandela Egbo) and is as head over heels for the talents of the young Colombian Reyes as Struber hinted last week, there appears to be a need for more depth in the middle of defense with the season a month away.