In a press conference on Tuesday ahead of his team’s match against Morocco, United States men’s national team head coach Gregg Berhalter was candid enough to name his starting lineup for the friendly a day in advance. Among those selected by Berhalter in what appears to be a largely first-choice eleven was none other than New York Red Bulls defender Aaron Long.
#USMNT notes ahead of tomorrow’s World Cup tuneup vs. Morocco:— Doug McIntyre (@ByDougMcIntyre) May 31, 2022
-Matt Turner will start in goal
-Aaron Long, Walker Zimmerman at CB
-Brenden Aaronson in central midfield. -Joe Scally won’t start but he has impressed in training.
-Weston McKennie expected to play 20 minutes.
An athletic center back with confident ball skills that hint to his past as an attacking midfielder, Long has won league defender of the year awards in both the USL and MLS and was a key member of the Red Bulls team that won the Supporters Shield while making a deep Champions League run in 2018. Before being sidelined by an Achilles injury just over a year ago Long had become a fixture in Berhalter’s US program, being named to the tournament best XI at the 2019 Gold Cup and becoming the subject of transfer bids from European sides as prestigious as Olympique Marseille and Liverpool.
New York fans who have seen the Californian hold the squad together through turbulent recent seasons and captain the team’s resurgent 2022 campaign are sure to be thrilled at Long’s inclusion in one of the final remaining friendlies ahead of the World Cup in Qatar this fall, and many national team followers are surely intrigued by the return of one of the young US team’s few veteran pillars as incumbent center backs such as Miles Robinson face injury woes of their own.
But I’m sorry to say that these people are part of the problem.
Their grounded perspective on a player’s body of work and respect for the human intangibles that define sports is letting America down. Long’s selection is the rock bottom moment for a coach and national team program that appears to have learned nothing from the same mistakes that currently has them defending a Gold Cup and Nations League title on top of their automatic qualification for the World Cup.
Once again, the national team’s manager has displayed his crude arrogance by selecting players he rates and trusts. The world of international soccer, with its massive random variables that often punish teams without a clear identity, is not place for a coach to shove his “vision” down our throats. There is no time to waste on matters like locker room morale and tactical cohesion when Berhalter is yet to complete a far more urgent task — validating national team fans online who want to be applauded for having read a Wikipedia chart that says a player is at a European club.
The list of snubs is national disgrace, and surely an international one by now with the ridicule Berhalter is facing abroad. There’s John Anthony Brooks, the German-born veteran whose class and consistency is so undeniable that his club is letting him walk as a free agent this summer, presumably out of respect for the beautiful game. There’s Cameron Carter-Vickers, who found that the seventh loan was a charm when he helped an underdog Celtic side overcome titans such as Ross County and Livingston to win the most recent Scottish title. There’s Erik Palmer-Brown, whose constant absence from the Manchester City lineup since his 2018 signing has earned him flattering comparisons to Zack Steffen.
Is Berhalter just not aware of how hard these players’ agents worked to get them unstable loan-heavy careers on the fringes of Europe? Does he not respect that these players’ EA Sports ratings are arbitrarily higher than those in MLS? Perhaps some context-free statistics premised on the idea that soccer is a science of hot hands and numerical production rather than an art of team construction will open Gregg’s sheltered mind.
Either way, it’s more of the same mentality that’s saddled the US with an undefeated record against Mexico since 2019 and seen Berhalter keep the youngest squad to qualify for the World Cup calcified with his old boy favorites. It’s time for Berhalter to show some deference to the true fans who have reached a higher plane of understanding the sport by hitching their logic and full-time attention to a team that assembles for approximately six weeks out of a given year.
Let’s not let Aaron Long or the national teammates that love him off the hook here either. He could put country before career and admit the fraud that’s taking place. As one of the team’s veteran voices, he has a special platform to let Gregg Berhalter know that he needs to be taken out of the lineup for Morocco. Long could make himself a national hero by requesting he be replaced by Chris Richards, who will be a solid three-month stopgap before the most important thing on the internet becomes giving caps in Qatar to Justin Che.