Aaron Long is a defender for the United State men’s national team. He made his presence known with two goals against Trinidad and Tobago in the second match of Gold Cup 2019 action, helping put the finishing touches on a 6-0 rout.
He’s on the backline for an American defense that has yet to cede a goal in the Gold Cup, as the only game so far was a 4-0 shutout of Guyana. The USMNT returns to the pitch Wednesday night in Kansas City for the Group D finale against Panama (9 p.m. EST, FS1 and UniMas).
At 6-foot-2, 172 pounds, the 26-year-old is considered one of the national team’s best one-on-one defenders, according to head coach Gregg Berhalter. Here’s what you need to know about him.
1. Long Is Originally From the San Bernadino County
According to his MLS Soccer profile, Long is from Oak Hills (Calif.), which is in the Mojave Desert in San Bernadino County. He was born Oct. 12, 1992 to his parents Dan and Kandi.
He attended Serrano High School in Phelan. The school has also produced Chivas USA’s Caleb Calvert, who was selected in the 2014 MLB Dispersal Draft by the Colorado Rapids.
According to the Victorville Daily Press, Long played club soccer for the Apple Valley Storm and eventually with Arsenal FC South, a club based in Murrieta. He talked about needing to travel to get noticed by college coaches.
“I had to drive an hour down the hill two or three times a week just to be seen by college coaches,” Long said. “I don’t think you’re going to get enough just playing at the high school.”
He was an All-Mojave River League selection in soccer from 2006-08 and all-conference selection in football in 2009-10.
In addition to his collegiate career, he played for FC Tucson, a travel team in the United State League’s Premier Developmental League. He made 17 appearances, scoring three goals.
2. He Attended the University of California-Riverside
Long earned a scholarship to play varsity at UC Riverside from 2010-13. He was a midfielder for the Highlanders, earning his first minutes as a freshman in a 3-2 loss at San Jose State, according to his college bio.
Just three days later, he scored for the first time in his college career in a 5-0 rout over Alabama A&M. By 2012, he made the All-Big West first team for leading the team in scoring and points. He made the second-team his senior year in 2013.
Overall, he totaled 13 goals and 31 points, including five game-winners. His efforts led to a second-round selection in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft by the Portland Timbers. He bounced around on loans to the Sacramento Republic and Orange County Blues of the USL, as well as a short stint with the Seattle Sounders, before breaking out in 2016.
3. He Joined the New York Red Bulls & by 2018, He Was Named MLS Defender of the Year
According to US Soccer Players, Long was picked up on loan by the New York Red Bulls affiliate in the USL in 2016. He took advantage of the opportunity, winning the USL Defender of the Year and helping the team win the USL regular season and USL Cup.
He made his MLS debut in the season opener versus Atlanta on March 5, 2017, scoring his first MLS goal against FC Dallas on Sept. 2. His real breakthrough came in 2018.
According to his Red Bulls bio, he became the first player in club history to win MLS Defender of the Year. He tallied three goals, two assists and “helped anchor a backline that has recorded 14 clean sheets.”
He was also named an MLS All-Star in 2018. His efforts helped New York win the 2018 MLS Supporter’s Shield for the best record in the league. This earned the attention of then-interim USMNT coach Dave Sarachen. He has since stuck around for the Gold Cup roster this year.
“That was a surprise for me for sure,” he said to US Soccer Players. “Just looking back, what a great honor. It’s something you can never prepare for, in my position, in that moment. Looking back on it, I will forever be so proud of that.”
4. Long Is the Highest-Paid Domestic Player in the MLS
According to Pro Soccer USA, Long is the highest-paid domestic player in the MLS. He signed a contract in February that entitles him to $900,000 a year in salary.
Before the new deal, the 10 highest-earning defenders in the league were all foreign players, writes Julian Cardillo.
Earlier this offseason, the 10 highest-paid defenders had three things in common: All were foreign players, all were purchased during or after the 2017 summer transfer window, and none were MLS Best XI selections or MLS All-Stars.
Five of the 10 also played for teams who didn’t make the 2018 playoffs – including the league’s overall highest-paid defender, Michael Mancienne of the New England Revolution.
LA Galaxy forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic tops the list in terms of all players, earning $7.2 million in annual compensation per the Denver Post.
5. As a Defender & a Scorer, Long’s Gold Cup Debut Couldn’t Be Much Better
The national team has won the first two games of the Gold Cup by a combined score of 10-0, albeit against lowly Caribbean squads. However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that Long has excelled in his initial tournament.
Long played from start to finish in the shutout over Guyana. Against Trinidad and Tobago, he both opened and finished the scoring in the 6-0 rout, which was revenge for the loss in 2018 that disqualified the USMNT from the World Cup.
“As he gets more fit, he’s a dynamic player,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said of Long to Goal. “We rate him highly. We think we have four good center backs in camp, and together with Walker [Zimmerman] they formed a good pairing in these first games.”
The way he scored was also impressive. According to the Associated Press, He first pushed the ball into the net with his chest, and then he polished off the night with a header.
Once A Metro wrote after the Trinidad and Tobago game that Long has come a long way since his days in the USL.
Watching Aaron Long grow up within the Red Bulls system with Red Bulls 2 in USL Championship, to the main team has been amazing. His growth on and off the pitch has been tremendous, and while he has a defender of the year award in his back pocket, you know that he wants to hoist an MLS Cup right away.
Long has earned a place for now on the national team as it tries to return to the World Cup in 2022.