HANOVER, N.J. — It didn’t end the way he wanted, but Aaron Long’s Concacaf Gold Cup experience was overall a positive one.
The New York Red Bulls central defender played a key role in helping lead the USMNT to the final, where they fell to Mexico 1-0 Sunday night at Soldier Field in Chicago. He was one of three U.S. players named to the tournament’s Best XI, joining Michael Bradley and Christian Pulisic.
“It was great to get the group together, to go through a lot of trials and tribulations, to go through tough moments, to go through a lot of good moments just gets the group closer and we’ll take the next step forward,” Long told Pro Soccer USA in his first day back with the Red Bulls Tuesday.
Long started all but one game for Gregg Berhalter’s side and that was when the first-year coach rotated his entire starting XI for the final group stage match against Panama. He even scored a pair of goals in a 6-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago.
While Long opened a lot of eyes with his athleticism, physicality, speed and ability to put out fires defensively, it’s nothing Red Bulls coach Chris Armas hasn’t seen on a regular basis. Even though he was competing in his first major international tournament, Long never looked out of place.
“He went there and it looked like he hadn’t missed a beat, the games were almost perfect for him because it was the intensity of those early games, it built the whole time, perfect for Aaron,” Armas said. “And then like he does, whether it’s in the league of the playoffs or national team, All-Star games, he seems to always be able to meet the demand of the next level. It’s really good to see him grow in front of our eyes and on the national team stage and in big moments. He comes back to us bigger for that so we’re really happy to see him do so well.”
Long joined the USMNT camp after missing a month with the Red Bulls due to a hamstring strain. Armas said he was close before leaving, but was happy to see the 26-year-old physically be able to handle the daily grind of the Gold Cup without an issue.
“We’re proud of Aaron, we thought he was excellent the whole tournament, It’s good to see that he’s healthy,” Armas said. “When he left here, he was close. We thought we got him to a good point, our staff, medical team got him to a point where he was ready and they did a nice job to finish that process off.”
As for Long, he thinks the Gold Cup was a good starting point for a young core on the USMNT to take forward into a pair of September friendlies and the Concacaf Nations League in the fall before World Cup qualifiers in the not so distant future.
“I think it was a great foundation, to get to the final and to put on a good performance and knowing that we we left some things out there that we can do better,” Long said. “It’s great to build off of.”