A 23-year-old midfielder converted to center back. The world took no notice.
That change propelled this player on to lead a team to the USL championship, winning USL defender of the year. Suddenly his name appeared in headlines; Aaron Long. That name seems stuck in the headlines with continued league honors and national team call ups. Now the world has noticed.
While headlines this past month involving Long have been about transfers to prestigious leagues, the New York Red Bull community is left in both awe and fear by the rumors.
The Red Bulls’ fans love great stories. Players reaching their potential, and seeking greater challenges (even when it means leaving Red Bull Arena behind). Last season, the Red Bulls lost beloved coach Jesse Marsch, and witnessed the meteoric rise of the young Tyler Adams.
Long’s journey from obscurity to global interest is both inspiring, and what the Red Bulls are all about. Great players forged in a great system.
What is Red Bulls’ side of the story?
The Red Bulls are in a tight race for first in the Eastern conference, and with the new playoff system, a high seeding is all the more important. Losing our best center back mid-season would be nothing short of a catastrophe.
With all this drama, it is important to remember the facts. After last season, Long signed a new contract, making him the highest paid domestic defender in MLS, and securing him to a “multi-year deal”. This means the Red Bulls are under no pressure to trade him this window.
For the Red Bulls, Long is, and should be, a centerpiece for the rest of the season. As long as the player’s focus remains on the next game, and not on his next club, he should continue to shine bright.
What about Aaron Long’s best interest?
Unfortunately for Long, history is not on his side. Red Bulls’ defenders that have moved to Europe’s top five leagues have not seen much success.
Chelsea FC signed Matt Miazga after his 2015 season with the Red Bulls. Immediately, Miazga was loaned off to the Dutch premier side Vitesse. Next up, France. Miazga played for Ligue 1 side Nantes, but after a few months, and only 8 appearances, returned to Chelsea. Miazga now plays in the Championship with Reading FC, hoping to one day get his chance with Chelsea’s first team.
Tim Ream also left Harrison for a chance to play in Europe. Ream signed for Bolton Wanderers FC in the Championship. He later transferred to Fulham. He was instrumental in Fulham’s promotion to the Premier League, which helped get him noticed by the US Men’s National Team again. Unfortunately, Ream was unable to save Fulham from relegation last season and is now playing in the Championship once again.
The good news for Long is, he never let expectations, nor history, hold him back before. With continued strong form at the national team level, accomplishments in the league, and a great skill set for modern defending, he may continue to prove how much of an outlier he can be.
No one would blame Long for wanting to challenge himself and seek his full potential. The move could even be beneficial to the reputations of the Red Bulls, Major League Soccer and the US Men’s National Team.
Where does the story go?
The most likely scenario is that Long will be with the Red Bulls for the remainder of the season. In January, the Red Bulls will be more prepared to seriously consider offers from overseas. With Long always striving for the next challenge, it seems the only thing that would hold back a trade would be the price.
It is hard to say what a player’s value is in the world market. It is even harder to say what a player will be valued for months in the future. Red Bulls will definitely get a good return on their investment, but that may be insufficient since Long is now a centerpiece for the team. Finding his replacement may factor into their price of the player.
The rumors are not likely to go away anytime soon, and neither is Long’s name from the headlines.
Photo by Steve Hamlin