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Long time coming: ex-FC Tucson player makes national team

After seasons in soccer wilderness, Aaron Long named to U.S. side

Aaron Long had a successful soccer career at UC Riverside, making the all-conference team in 2012. He’d also spent two summers playing at center back for FC Tucson. All indications were for a good career in first-division soccer.

In 2014, he got his chance when the Portland Timbers drafted him. He made a grand total of no appearances for them, instead he was loaned out to second-division sides. A trade to rivals Seattle Sounders didn’t give him any other chances to see the field at the top flight.

He played in the second tier until he finally got his chance to play top-flight soccer for the New York Red Bulls in August of 2016. That appearance finally led to regular places in the starting lineup. Which led to the dream of every kid who has grown up in the game.

On Tuesday, U.S. national team coach Dave Sarachan announced that Long would be on the roster for matches against Brazil and Mexico. Long is the first former FC Tucson player to be named to the national side.

“At first, I wondered why it had taken so long,” said Phoenix Rising coach Rick Schantz, who coached Long during his two seasons at FC Tucson. “Second, it’s a great sign of the progress US Soccer is making at identifying players and giving them more opportunities.”

Schantz noted that Long played both center back and midfielder as a college player, which might have given coaches expectations that he couldn’t meet.

“He wasn’t the super technical player,” he said. “No one knew what his best position was at the Major League Soccer level... S2 (Seattle’s second division side) played him at center back. Aaron is unbelievably athletic and reads the game real well. That move was good.”

Long comes in to the national team picture at an interesting time. The retirement announcement of Clint Dempsey last week was another marker that the players fans have been watching for the last ten years have moved on. At 25, Long lands on the older side of a team that averages 23 years old. Even at goalkeeper, where the U.S. has traditionally been able to count on older players, the most experienced of the three will be Columbus Crew’s Zack Steffen, who has made only three prior appearances.

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The team is under an interim coach, Sarachan, which leaves Long with an opportunity to impress before a permanent coach is brought in. Many national team watchers don’t expect him to start in Friday’s match against Brazil, but Schantz thought his best times for FC Tucson were off the bench.

“He was easily one of the most explosive players I ever coached,” said Schantz. “He could take over at any moment of a game...he’s a guy that when he gets time on the ball he can make good decisions...that’s why he’s been so successful at center back.”

Friday's match against Brazil will be at 4:30 p.m. local time on UniMas and Univision Deportes.

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Josh Pearson/TucsonSentinel.com

Aaron Long playing for FC Tucson in 2013