HANOVER, N.J. — They are the best defensive pairing in Major League Soccer, anchoring a backline that conceded the fewest goals in the league during a regular season culminated by a third Supporters’ Shield title in six years.
Aaron Long was named the MLS Defender of the Year, Tim Parker’s preseason trade from the Vancouver Whitecaps cited as the biggest reason for the New York Red Bulls’ defensive turnaround and both players earned their first appearances with the U.S. men’s national team.
They are nearly the same age (Long is 26, while Parker is 25) and the same size (6-foot-2) and both have similar physical attributes on the field.
They are like spaghetti and meatballs, Thanksgiving turkey and stuffing, chocolate and peanut butter.
Well, maybe not that.
“He doesn’t like Reese’s, which is weird,” Parker said of Long. “Chocolate and peanut butter combo, he’s not a fan of.”
That’s just one of the many differences off the field Long and Parker celebrate.
Long is the Cali kid who excelled in multiple sports at Serrano High School. Parker, who proudly represents Long Island, was a soccer and lacrosse standout at Hicksville High School.
Long picked up a lacrosse stick at Red Bulls training during the summer and, well, it didn’t go well.
“The thing is, I’m actually crazy good at every sport except that sport,” Long said. “I cannot get the hang of that. I can’t even throw the ball. I can’t sprint with the thing.”
“I judged your athletic ability after seeing you with a lacrosse stick,” Parker quipped.
Parker’s professional team of choice Is the New York football Giants, while Long, almost expectedly, is a Los Angeles Lakers fan. They both enjoy Mexican food and playing Fortnite.
“He’s a better Fortnite player,” Parker said. “I’ll give him that.”
Long credits Parker’s musical choices, so much so that he used Parker’s suggestion (“Take Me Home, Country Roads,” from John Denver) as the song he sang on his first USMNT call-up. It’s part, they say of the initiation.
Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud,” Parker said.
“I wish I would have been there for that,” Long said.
While their relationship is strong now, it didn’t start out that way.
“You didn’t like me when I first got here,” Parker told Long. “You guys kept telling me to come to Jersey City, but I never really got an invite. It was weird.”
They first met, as teammates, at Tijuana International Airport ahead of a Concacaf Champions League quarterfinal against Xolos. Parker, who flew from Vancouver, lamented he had to wait there for two hours for his new teammates to arrive.
When they finally landed, Long said Parker made an interesting first impression.
“First impression was like this guy needs to buy a bigger shirt,” Long joked. “This guy’s shirt is way too small.”
There was some trepidation, as well, when Parker arrived because Long said he was unsure how Parker was going to be utilized.
Meanwhile, while Parker knew of the Red Bulls players from being in the league for three years, former St. John’s University teammate Connor Lade was the only one he really knew.
“Aaron was a good guy, quiet, but I broke him down,” Parker said. “I got him to like me.”
“It took a little time,” Long admitted. “He wore me down.”
Despite all the ribbing, Long and Parker have impressed each other during the Red Bulls’ run to the Eastern Conference finals.
“I’d say his ability to recognize danger is his best skill, to know where the danger’s going to be or what the threat is at the moment,” Long said of Parker. “He’s really good at recognizing that.”
“Aaron’s ability to put out fires when stuck in touch situations, one-v-one battles,” Parker said of Long’s best attribute. “It’s good to know you can rely on him to come out of most of those winning.”
There was no good-natured teasing when Parker was the first to earn a USMNT call-up. While they’ve become the best central defense pairing in MLS, they both want to play together for the U.S. men’s national team.
“I’ve said from Day One, and I’m sure Aaron’s the same way, we want to be there together and get an opportunity to play together there just as we have here,” Parker said.
Added Long: “I don’t want to say it’s a goal, but it’s definitely something I’m looking forward to and I’m hopeful for. I would love that moment, to start on the national team with him. That would be a big moment for me and for us, I would think.”
With all their differences off the field, and similarities on it, the banter might be what makes the duo better.
“He probably makes it more obvious that he likes banter and stuff, but I kinda dish it out more to him than anyone else,” Parker said. “I think I can have more fun with Aaron than a lot of the other guys because obviously our relationship on the field makes us better off the field, but that’s also why we can give each other so much schtick about it.”