On Wednesday the big moment finally arrived as Gregg Berhalter named his United States men’s national team for the World Cup. Berhalter, a New Jersey native who was once interviewed by the New York Red Bulls to replace Mike Petke before frustrating them as a rival manager with Columbus, picked a squad featuring several figures from the last decade in Harrison. While much attention from in and outside the Red Bulls fanbase was understandably focused on center back and current (for now) captain Aaron Long, Berhalter’s squad at large is somewhat of a museum exhibit of New York’s run in the league’s elite through the 2010s.
The big news is the big news — Aaron Long becomes the first active New York Red Bull to play in a World Cup for the United States, and the first New York player to be selected for the American team at the finals since Clint Mathis in 2002. After Michael Amir Murillo and Fidel Escobar suited up for Panama at Russia 2018, Long is expected to be the only current Red Bull to suit up for any country at this year’s finals, with left back John Tolkin closed out from the US after last minute hope and forward Patryk Klimala reluctantly out of the Poland picture following a disappointing 2022 campaign.
The 30-year-old Long’s selection is one that was a shocking outrage to bores with college football Twitter avatars but unsurprising to most adults. Outside of a 2021 season ended by an Achilles injury, the 2018 MLS Defender of the Year has been a fixture in Berhalter’s US teams and one of the few older veterans propping up a young US locker room. Long’s obligations in Qatar will delay any decision on his club future, with the Californian entering free agency this winter and the subject of interest throughout MLS and Europe.
Meanwhile another blue chip Red Bulls center back who left for a splashy move elsewhere also made the World Cup squad, and it’s not even Matt Miazga. For the umpteenth time Tim Ream has emerged from the shadows to re-establish himself in the national team picture after eye-catching form in the Premier League with Fulham. An anchor of Hans Backe’s teams in the early 2010s, the 35-year-old Ream was purchased by Bolton Wanderers in 2012 and embarked on a long career in England’s top two divisions. The skinny draft pick from St Louis is winding down his career as a respected (and man-bunned) elder statesman in the sport’s homeland, and a World Cup trip after a spotty international career is a poignant cherry on top.
Meanwhile, some more obvious Red Bulls alums were selected in Berhalter’s squad. Tyler Adams, whose legacy in New York lingers enough that they still make bobbleheads of him here, was named to the team he will likely be a centerpiece of. Since leaving New York after a heroically serving as a teenage leader in the Shield-winning 2018 squad, the academy graduate has followed up a reputation-building stint at RB Leipzig with a conspicuous move to the English scene at Leeds United, where he is currently near the top of many league defensive metrics under former New York manager Jesse Marsch.
Timothy Weah was also selected to the US squad after a cycle where the scion of footballing royalty and presidential power established himself as an every-week pro at Lille. A cousin of semi-current New York fullback Kyle Duncan, Weah grew up mostly on Long Island and played with the Red Bulls academy in his teen years before his father’s connections helped earn him a move to Paris Saint-Germain in 2014.
This outsized presence in the squad is a fitting tribute to New York’s contributions to American soccer over the last decade through various stages and at various levels. Whether it’s canny draft picks, academy starlets, or journeyman midfielders converted into center backs, New York has been at the forefront of player development on the domestic scene through the game’s biggest growth period. While the current situation in Harrison struggles to enthuse, the glory of the club’s recent past will be on display over the coming weeks in Qatar.