Aaron Long
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

New York Red Bulls defender Aaron Long isn’t an easy player to find and unfortunately, he could be on his way out of the club.

Onz Chery

On Feb. 18, 2019, New York Red Bulls star defender Aaron Long tweeted that he wouldn’t want to be with any other team but with RBNY.

About five months later, during the Red Bulls and New York City F.C.’s match on Sunday, commentator Brian Dunseth said he’s “been told there [have] been multiple offers, including a Premier League team offer, for Aaron Long,” via MLSsoccer.com.

You can feel New York fans’ hearts sinking. Their star defender, the reigning MLS Defender of the Year, the new United States’ ace centre back could be on the move.

Long isn’t a player who comes around often. For starters, his journey deserves to be told in a five-star movie. It’s as inspiring as it is unique.

When was the last time you heard someone played soccer, football, and tennis growing up? Football and basketball together, okay, we’ve seen that quite often—Allen Iverson, LeBron James. Soccer and basketball as well, for example, Steve Nash and Sean Johnson.

Yes, a football and soccer combo has been a catch for a few kickers. But Long wasn’t just a kicker when he was at Serrano High School.

He notched 56 tackles in 14 games his senior year and made the All-Mojave River League All-Conference selection in 2010. On top of the unusual soccer/football combo, Long added tennis to the mix.

But anyway, the 26-year-old’s multi-sports youth career isn’t the most unique thing about him. Long had a rough road to the MLS.

The American had to pass two MLS teams before making his first appearance in U.S. top tier and was selected in the second round of the 2014 MLS SuperDraft.

What makes Long’s rise even more surprising is that he didn’t even play defense in college, the position he’s made his bread and butter in the MLS. He was a holding midfielder.

The converted defender’s uphill road to the Red Bulls’ first-team showcases one word: determination. Let’s track back a bit, Long has been showing that side of him since when he was in high school.

“I had to drive an hour down the hill two or three times a week just to be seen by college coaches,” he told Jacob Sundstrom of the Daily Press. “I don’t think you’re going to get enough just playing at the high school.”

Those long drives were worth it. Long received a scholarship to play for University of California, Riverside. When the 26-year-old was playing for UCR, he was still networking and even trained with the Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake.

After all this work, the American was only selected as the 36th overall pick of the 2014 MLS SuperDraft by the Portland Timbers.

Long never played for the Timbers, as the club loaned him to USL side the Sacramento Republic, who he only played two games with. He was also loaned to Orange County Blues and played three games for them.

After those two loan moves, Portland released the center back on July 2, 2014. He then tried his luck with Seattle Sounders F.C. Long was only able to make Seattle’s second team. It was during this time he was converted from defensive midfield to central defense.

After making 27 appearances with Seattle in the 2015 season, Long gave RBNY a chance. He originally made New York’s second team. Long won the 2016 USL Defender of the Year award with RBNY II while helping the team win the league.

The following season, he broke into the Red Bulls’ first squad. And in 2018 he won the MLS Defender of the Year accolade before making the CONCACAF Best XI this year with the United States men’s national team.

Long’s started-from-the-bottom career isn’t the only special thing about him but also his supportive nature. The defender will retweet, retweet, and retweet stuff about his teammates and non-teammates.

He retweeted former RBNY II player Stefano Bonomo’s tweet about naming his kids after first-team players Bradley Wright-Phillips and Luis Robles, sent a couple of retweets when Red Bulls teenage player Ben Mines made his first MLS appearance, and retweeted a picture of Panama’s starting XI back in March 2018 because his teammate Michael Murillo was among those starters.

With such love for his teammates, it’s easy to guess that Long is a selfless player.

“It’s not so much about my game, it’s about how do we get a win on the day. What do I need to do to help the team win,” he told Red Bulls Insider.

“It’s not so much ‘How do I secure my spot out there, how do I show who I am?’ It’s more like what do I need to do so that we can win.”

And last but not least, Long is rare because he’s the best model you will find in the MLS.

It would hurt to see him go if he does exit the club this transfer window.

It’s not easy to find a team player who will put his teammates first and who’s also determination brought him from a relative unknown to one of the premier players in the MLS.

With Long’s talent, odds are he will leave the Red Bulls. It might not be this season, but eventually, he will. One thing to keep in mind is that New York is the club that gave him a chance after the rough start of his career and the team he started to make a name for himself with. Perhaps that’s worth something in the long run.

Originally from Haiti, Ralph 'Onz' Chery started his writing career as a City College of New York student with The Campus. He also wrote for First Touch, the Cosmopolitan Soccer League and other local leagues. After graduating, Onz started covering the New York Red Bulls for ESNY and joined Haitian Times.