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Who is Aaron Long? Things to know about the USA star

Tom Gott
Jan 29, 2021, 3:45 PM GMT
Aaron Long is in high demand
Aaron Long is in high demand | Ira L. Black - Corbis/Getty Images
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There's a long list of Americans who have left Major League Soccer for a career in Europe, and according to reports, New York Red Bulls defender Aaron Long could be the next man on that list.

The 28-year-old is rumoured to be on the radar of a number of different English sides.

Reading, Southampton and West Ham have all been linked. However, it is a report suggesting he could sign a short-term loan to help alleviate the defensive injury crisis at Premier League champions Liverpool that has turned the most heads.

Let's take a closer look at Long.

Key facts

Age: 28
Nationality: American
Club: New York Red Bulls
Trophies: MLS Supporters' Shield 2018
Individual honours: MLS All Star 2018, MLS Defender of the Year 2018, MLS Best XI 2018, Gold Cup Best XI 2019
international caps: 18 (3 goals)

1. He was a midfielder when he turned pro

Often used as an example of why young players should never give up trying to make it, Long only became a centre-back in 2016 after facing the prospect of dropping out of the game.

A box-to-box midfielder by trade, Long was struggling to find a team in the summer of 2016 after being released by his second team, until then Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch offered him a chance as a defender.

Long openly admits that he never liked the idea of being a defender, but as a 23-year-old without a single minute of top-flight football to his name, he was forced to consider other options.

2. He was the MLS' top defender in 2018

Not only did Long successfully transition into a centre-back, but he took MLS by storm.

His first minute in the league came in March 2017, and by the end of 2018, he was widely seen as one of the finest defenders the division had to offer.

Long was named as the 2018 MLS Defender of the Year, before finishing sixth in the voting in 2019. Not bad for someone who had only been playing that role for a few years at the time.

3. European sides have long been keen

After that outstanding 2018 season, Long soon found himself linked with a move to Europe. Eintracht Frankfurt, West Ham United and a mystery Ligue 1 side all made approaches to try sign him, but all were knocked back.

The Red Bulls are open to selling - they are well aware that Europe will soon come calling for any MLS star - but they're done being taken advantage of.

“He can play in almost any league in the world. But what we need is another club out there to see his value and come in strong with an offer that makes sense to our club. We’re not going to just give away our best players,” coach Chris Armas told SI.

4. His relationship with the Red Bulls hasn't always been great

Long has voiced concerns over his team's refusal to sell
Long has voiced concerns over his team's refusal to sell | Elsa/Getty Images

As a late bloomer, Long has often expressed concerns over how he has lost a lot of time in his career already, so when the chance to move to Europe arose in 2018, he was eager to take advantage of it.

The Red Bulls' refusal to sanction a deal created somewhat of a divide between club and player. Long is understood to have been devastated at the breakdown of the move, while his desire to leave also attracted some criticism from a section of the team's fans.

However, he has never let his feelings get in the way of his job. Long is seen as a model professional who has remained loyal to the Red Bulls, while also making it clear that he would relish the chance to test himself overseas.

5. He backs himself to succeed in the Premier League

Long believes he would fit in in Europe
Long believes he would fit in in Europe | Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Long opened up on his European ambitions in an interview with ESPN, insisting that he is confident in his ability to make the jump over to a top league in Europe.

"Interest from scouts says I can play in the Bundesliga and I can play in the Premier League," the California native admitted. "I think those are two leagues that fit my attributes - a big, strong, fast centre-back who is decent with his feet."

6. His ball-playing abilities have divided opinion

His passing hasn't always been popular
His passing hasn't always been popular | Elsa/Getty Images

While Long's admission that he is only 'decent' with his feet suggests he knows it's not a major strength of his game, his passing skills have often left fans wanting more.

A common criticism of Long is that he lacks composure and bravery with the ball at his feet, and he's often not the most reliable option when it comes to playing out from the back.

That's not to say he's a constant liability at the back, but maybe don't expect any defence-splitting passes from Long.

7. He's famed for his one-on-one defending

One thing that those who have watched Long all agree on is that his one-on-one defending is the skill that puts him on another level.

Combining his outstanding anticipation with above-average athleticism, Long knows how to position his body to neutralise defenders, and it's earned him a reputation as a nightmare to play against.

Long is also seen as real menace in the air. His ability to outmuscle attackers is clear to see, and it also makes him an asset from set-pieces.

8. He was an Arsenal fan growing up

Long admits to being an Arsenal fan
Long admits to being an Arsenal fan | John Dorton/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Long rarely hides his affinity towards Arsenal, and you'll regularly find him reminiscing about his childhood as a Gooner.

"I was an Arsenal supporter so I really liked Patrick Vieira, so that was kind of my guy," Long said (via Goal). "He was just a destroyer. Against the ball he was unbelievable, winning the ball back, and then, with the ball, he could make the game pretty. It was one of those things he could do both sides of the ball and do it for, in my opinion, one of the best teams in the world."

However, his idol was not from Arsenal, but rather former Fulham star and fellow American Carlos Bocanegra.

9. USA Captain?

Long has captained his country
Long has captained his country | John Dorton/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Several of the reports about Liverpool's potential interest in Long cite the defender as the USA team captain.

The centre back has led the USMNT in four games to date, though the honour of captaining the team has moved around a lot of late.

DeAndre Yedlin, Wil Trapp, Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tim Ream and Zack Steffen have all also been handed the armband in the last five years.

For more from ​Tom Gott, follow him on ​Twitter!

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