Aaron Long has insisted he's "good to go" for the United States' World Cup qualifiers later this month.
The New York Red Bulls center-back, who suffered a torn ACL back in 2021, hasn't played a competitive game since May.
But Long is now nearing the end of his path to recovery and was recently called into the USMNT's winter training camp in Arizona. With World Cup qualifiers against El Salvador, Canada, and Honduras coming up, the 29-year-old has thrown his hat into the ring for contention.
“I feel great. I mean, I'm not even eight months out yet, but I feel really good, I'm training full speed,” Long told reporters on Thursday (via MLSsoccer.com). “We had a scrimmage today. I got my minutes in the 11v11 scrimmage vs. Phoenix Rising today, so I'm feeling really good. Just got to keep getting fit and hopefully – and I got [two] more weeks until the qualifier, so yeah, should be good to go.”
Despite his confidence, Long faces an uphill battle to push himself up the USMNT's center-back depth chart. John Brooks has long been an established leader in that position, and Chris Richards' star is rising fast in Europe. Back at home, the likes of Miles Robinson and Walker Zimmerman enjoyed strong 2021 MLS seasons with Atlanta United and Nashville SC, respectively.
“I think the first time you hit that adversity and you hit those bumps, you don't really know how to respond and how to react,” he continued.
“I've been through the long road and have hit a lot of these bumps already. So it was just another one, and it took that first week to kind of wrap my head around it. But after that, it was just a mentality of powering through and kind of how I respond to these moments, and not looking back and looking at my leg and sitting on the couch and kind of feeling sorry for myself.
“So it wasn't the hardest thing I've dealt with.”
While Long - who has 21 USMNT caps to his name so far - would undoubtedly love to be involved later this month, head coach Gregg Berhalter is a little more realistic. He hasn't necessarily taken Long out of contention, but has hinted that these upcoming fixtures have come around a little too early for the center-back.
“He looks great. His progression from Cincinnati camp in November to December to now has been right in line – the line’s going [upward], he’s doing a good job,” said Berhalter.
“For us it's about having fit players, having guys in rhythm, available. And I'm not sure he's going to get there this month, but hopefully, he’ll be close. And then we know he goes back to MLS preseason with his team and he plays games there in the start of the season, and hopefully, in March we're having different conversations.”