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The Aaron Long journey from USL to the USMNT

Jun 23, 2018; Harrison, NJ, USA; New York Red Bulls defender Aaron Long (33) controls the ball against FC Dallas during the first half at Red Bull Arena. (Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports)

HANOVER, N.J. — Aaron Long’s road to the United States men’s national team is a bit more circuitous than others. But once he was called into his first camp, getting there was a journey shorter than most.

Long was one of three New York Red Bulls players called into the USMNT camp for upcoming international friendly matches against Brazil and Mexico. And with the match against Brazil taking place at MetLife Stadium, the U.S. is setting up camp at the Red Bulls training facility.

“It’s definitely a lot easier, the transition is very easy for me,” Long told Pro Soccer USA Wednesday before training. “The hotel we’re staying at is two miles away from my house. We’re training at Red Bulls facility. In a lot of ways, keeping it familiar and seeing familiar faces around makes it a little easier for me, for sure.”

One of the most familiar faces for Long is that of Tim Parker, who partners with him to form arguably the best central defensive duo in MLS. Parker and Red Bulls teammate Tyler Adams also were called into Dave Sarachan’s 25-man roster.

“In these situations when you’re coming into a new team and a new environment, anytime you can be around familiar faces or people you’re comfortable with, it’s always going to make it easier,” Long said.

Long’s path to his first call-up was vastly different than anyone else on the roster. He’s not a homegrown guy or someone discovered by European scouts at a young age.

After being drafted by the Portland Timbers in 2014, he was loaned out to United Soccer League sides Sacramento Republic and Orange County Blues. After being released by Portland, Long latched on with the Seattle Sounders, and after not playing in the second half of the 2014 season, he signed with Seattle Sounders 2 — where he switched from midfielder to centerback — before moving to the New York Red Bulls’ USL affiliate in 2016.

“It just proves that there’s no specific timetable with an athlete,” Sarachan said. “Some players start early, some start later, but if you persevere and push and challenge yourself, you can get to a certain level. And when you get that opportunity, you grasp it.”

A solid rookie campaign with the Red Bulls a year ago, where he started 30 of 31 matches, has led to a breakout second season. Long has opened eyes around MLS with his play, earning a 2018 MLS All-Star Game selection. Helping anchor a defense that has conceded the fewest goals in the league (29) for a team that is currently atop the Supporters’ Shield standings also piqued Sarachan’s interest.

“I think Aaron has shown with the profile type of centerback he is playing with Tim, he’s got good pace, good range, he sniffs things out and he’s been challenged at a very high level and has performed well,” Sarachan said. “He’s moved himself along.”

While Long admits a first cap, whether it’s against Mexico or Brazil or even beyond, is a “lifelong goal.” He’s got more modest goals for his first USMNT camp.

“I just want to show off assets of my game,” Long said. “I want to give myself completely to the program here at U.S. Soccer so they know I’m all in and I’m here for them in any way they need me. I can help out. I’m ready for that job.”

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