HANOVER, N.J. — Leading up to Aaron Long’s first appearance for the United States men’s national team Tuesday night against Peru, New York Red Bulls captain Luis Robles sent the young centerback an encouraging text — not that he thought he needed it.
“You’re going to do great, just relax, just continue to play your brand,” the goalkeeper said.
Robles didn’t watch the international friendly live, but the highlights he saw confirmed his first inclination about how Long would play.
“Even on the goal [against], I felt he did a good job of making sure the near-post guy couldn’t get the ball,” Robles said. “It just continues to speak to his progression and the quality this guy has. He’s an amazing player. What he’s brought to this organization has only made us better, and I’m just so happy he was able to get his first cap.”
Forced to decline his most recent call-up due to back spasms, Tyler Adams watched the match from home, and what he saw from Long, who partnered with Cameron Carter-Vickers, was the same thing he witnesses every week with the Red Bulls.
There’s a lot of competition in the centerback depth chart for the USMNT, with John Brooks, Matt Miazga, Tim Parker and Carter-Vickers, among others, but Adams thinks Long proved his worth in a solid 90-minute performance Tuesday night.
“The guy is unbelievable,” Adams said. “I’m so happy he’s getting the recognition he deserves right now. Obviously we have a good core of center backs there, but there’s no reason this guy can’t go out there and if he continues to play the way he’s playing, fight for a starting spot there.”
Aaron Long was the top performer for #USMNT:
37/43 (86%) passes
— #ThankYouDeuce (@JogaBonito_USA) October 17, 2018
Bradley Wright-Phillips watched as well, but he joked it was only because a Red Bulls teammate was part of the team. He’s another player who wasn’t surprised by Long’s performance.
“I thought Aaron done exactly what I thought he would do,” he said. “Any fires he had to put out, he did, on the ball he was good. He deserved his call-up and he deserves many more. I think he’s one of America’s best defenders.”
Red Bulls coach Chris Armas said he expected Long’s first cap to come this calendar year and cited his composure and comfort playing for the USMNT as something he’s seen in a bevy of other big games this year.
“You watch him even in the All-Star Game or you watch him playing against David Villa or [Wayne] Rooney or against Peru, he sometimes makes it look easy,” Armas said. “He’s really alert and he’s so tuned into plays and he values defending and he’s really hard to play against. He offers something physically, he’s got his speed in his mind and body, he’s really quick in every way. It was just another game where he kind of gets it done.”
And as impressed as Armas was, and has been, with Long’s ascension this season, he believes the 26-year-old is just scratching the surface of his potential.
“His growth has been amazing to watch and be a part of and I think he’s in that first third of it,” Armas said. “There’s so much more for him to go that he’s going to be a big player.”