Does Aaron Long belong to Qatar?
It’s hard to explain why there is anger around Aaron Long. Does the US men’s national team have a better central defender? Right. Did he take the place of more deserving players? Yes, but that’s more for argument. If you make staffing decisions based on trust with USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter, then Long could be at the top of the line. Had it not been for the rupture of the Achilles tendon in May 2021, Long’s promotion from the starting position in the US Professional Football League to the regular national team would have been more favorable.
When Long returned from injury in February, he played a few games before being called up to the national team for the final match of the World Cup Qualifiers against Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica. People forget that before the injury, Long was the leader in minutes for the national team under Berhalter. There is a pandemic that has scattered American talent around the globe, but Long has been a confidant of Berhalter long before the decision to choose the 26-man squad to play. brought to Qatar has been announced. If Long is in shape, he is an easily fooled choice to be picked for the World Cup.
Long has never played professional football outside of the United States. His only debut for MLS clubs was from 2017 for the New York Red Bulls following unsuccessful attempts to break into teams in Portland and Seattle. His presence was never seen as loud and intimidating, but he never made many mistakes. To be fair, we never saw Long face the level of competition he would face while in Qatar. Berhalter has put a lot of stock in Long. If you think he won’t make a significant contribution at the World Cup, you’d be wrong. It doesn’t matter if he plays, but how much.
MLSer Member Walker Zimmerman locked one of the USMNT’s two starting points in Qatar. I don’t see a way that doesn’t happen. As for the other centre-back, options for Berhalter are Long, Tim Ream and Cameron Carter-Vickers. Toss a three-sided coin to determine the remaining selection, with Carter-Vickers potentially having the longest odds of the three selections. Long has his mark inside, having consistently played for the Yanks in 2022, while Ream hasn’t had many recent calls. The opportunities Ream has had over the past 18 months have not been smooth.
The late push to start Ream in the long run comes down to a number of factors. First and foremost is the experience against similar competition. Ream is the captain of Fulham and was instrumental in their bid for promotion to the Premier League last year. Ream is 35 years old but has had years against some of the UK’s top talents. It’s very important that England and Wales are also in Group B. The person likely to start for the USMNT at left-back is Antonee Robinson, who plays at Fulham. Why doesn’t Berhalter capitalize on that familiarity?
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The main reason to start Long came from Berhalter’s system. An underrated part of sport is how well every player understands the coach’s system. Has long been a constant for the USMNT. He’s been in more difficult situations for the Americans than most other defenders and has a bigger advantage over Ream in that capacity. With just over a week of training together before face Wales on Monday, Any adaptation to the way Berhalter likes to prepare his team won’t take long for Long. Despite the experience advantage for Ream, the specificity of playing at the highest level must be questioned. My call will start Ream anyway, but Long will take his shot to prove he’s more than just a powered MLS project.