Queens, NY – New York Red Bulls fans got some unsettling news Sunday night during their Hudson River Derby match vs. NYCFC. Red Bulls found themselves trailing 1-0 after seven minutes and battled back to get a controversial 2-1 win over their cross town rivals. However, during the match, MLS commentator Brian Dunseth reported that there have been “multiple offers” from European clubs for star center-back Aaron Long, including at least one Premier League club. The joy of defeating NYCFC was tempered by the possibility of losing another core member of their squad.
Aaron Long’s career has been filled with ups and downs. The RBNY center-back has gone from USL cast-off to MLS Defender of the Year, even becoming regular call-up for the U.S. Men’s National Team under Gregg Berhalter. Long has cemented himself as one of the best central defenders in the league and has drawn interest from European clubs looking for a bargain on the transfer market.
Major League Soccer has had a decent track record in regards to producing Premier League quality defenders, such as: Carlos Bocanegra (Fulham), Jonathan Spector (Man United/ West Ham), Jay DeMerit (Watford), Eric Lichaj (Aston Villa) all enjoying varying degrees of success against world class opposition. More recently, guys like Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Tim Ream (Bolton/ Fulham) and DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle) have made names for themselves across the pond.
In my opinion, Aaron Long is perfectly suited to play in the Premier League. He is a big – 6’2, 190 lbs – strong defender with good pace, excellent passing range and is an aerial threat in the box. He’s also in the prime of his career, turning 27 years old in October. Long’s talent level is on par with, if not exceeds that of his American predecessors.
Back in the
– Tim Davis pic.twitter.com/nY4WMq8hIm
— Aaron Long (@A_LoLo12) July 14, 2019
During the broadcast, Dunseth did not name said Premier League club rumored to have put in a bid for Long’s services. So until a club comes forward as a possible suitor for the RBNY defender, we are left to speculate as to where he might land.
Let’s take a look at some realistic Premier League possibilities for the United States international:
Everton – As both an Everton supporter and Red Bulls fan, personal bias aside, I feel like this transfer would really be the best fit for Aaron Long. Everton have a history of importing American talent (ie. Preki, Tim Howard, Landon Donovan, Joe-Max Moore, Brian McBride) and Toffee fans appreciate hard-nosed footballers. Aaron Long is as blue-collar as they come and would fit right in with the club’s working class atmosphere.
Michael Keane is Everton’s only proven commodity at center-back at the moment. Kurt Zouma has returned to Chelsea after a successful loan spell on Merseyside. The Toffees splashed big cash on Yerry Mina last season, but injury issues have prevented him from cementing a spot in Marco Silva’s starting XI. Everton were hopeful they could secure a permanent transfer for Zouma while Maurizio Sarri was with the club. Unfortunately for Everton, new manager Frank Lampard reportedly wants to give Zouma another look during pre-season before making a decision on his future. Chelsea is hesitant on selling the France international with an upcoming transfer ban looming.
Aaron Long ladies and gentlemen. He’s been the best #USMNT defender this tournament, and has been immense again tonight. I know he signed a new Red Bulls deal this year, but it’s time for a Bundesliga/Premier League club to scoop him up.
— Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) July 4, 2019
Everton have little to no depth at the Center-back position after letting veterans Phil Jagielka and Ashley Williams leave the club to pursue other opportunities. Jags returned to his boyhood club Sheffield United while Williams is mulling over offers from MLS clubs and teams in the Qatari league.
Mason Holgate (22) and Matthew Pennington (24) are talented youngsters that came up through Finch Farm, however neither has shown that they are ready for the rigors of the Premier League. Holgate made 19 appearances on loan at West Brom last season while Pennington made 30 appearances for Ipswich Town in League One.
Silva doesn’t seem too keen on either player being a viable replacement for Zouma considering both have been linked with loan moves away this summer. With that said, bringing in Long to sure up that backline would be on brand for Everton. Imagine defenses trying to mark Keane, Mina and Long in the box on corners. Good luck.
AFC Bournemouth – A move to Bournemouth would certainly be seen as an upgrade for Long over RBNY and I’m confident he would compete for a starting job. Eddie Howe’s squad has a decent backline manned by veterans Simon Francis, Steve Cook and Charlie Daniels. In an effort to get younger, Bournemouth brought in 24-year-old Nathan Ake from Chelsea in 2017 for $20 MILL and he’s proved to be worth the investment.
Bournemouth has continued to fortify their defense this summer by bringing in left-back Lloyd Kelly for $13-million from Bristol City and spent another $4-million on Jack Stacey from Luton Town. Still, the club could use some reinforcement in central defense considering Francis is 34 years old and at the tail end of his career. Bournemouth recently sold Tyrone Mings to Aston Villa for $26.5-million and could use some of that money on an Aaron Long purchase.
Arsenal – If you subscribe to Arsenal Fan TV, you’ll know that fans have been clamoring for the club to address their atrocious defense. The Gunners finished 5th last season, conceding the second most goals (51) of the “Top 6” sides – only Manchester United (54) conceded more. Fans have grown tired of Shkodran Mustafi’s errors at the back and want him out the door. Rob Holding showed flashes in 2018-19, but he is expected to miss the start of the season while still recovering from ACL surgery in December.
In more recent developments, Team Captain Laurent Koscielny has refused to travel to the U.S. with the club for pre-season friendlies after Arsenal brass denied his transfer request. It’s been reported that the soon-to-be 34 year old desires a return to France to finish out his career.
Presenting the #GoldCup2019 Best XI!
Who else would you add to the team?
— Gold Cup 2019 (@GoldCup) July 8, 2019
Sokratis Papastathopoulos is the only “consistent-ish” central defender on a club that reportedly does not have much cash to spend this transfer window. Bringing in Aaron Long for a minimal fee would be a smart business move and fills an immediate void on the team sheet.
Norwich City – Daniel Farke’s club was by far the best attacking side in the EFL Championship last season, scoring 93 goals in 46 matches – 15 more than runner’s up Sheffield United. However, Norwich were also one of the worst defensive teams in the league, conceding 57 goals in 2018-19. In comparison, Ipswich Town finished in last place and conceded 77 goals during a miserable domestic campaign that saw them relegated to League One.
Norwich City will line up in a 4-2-3-1 that stresses a fast-paced, possession style of play. Staying true to his German roots, Farke’s team deploys a high press – something Long is very familiar with from his time in New York. Norwich also love tall central defenders (Christoph Zimmerman, Timm Klose and Grant Hanley are all over 6’3 tall) that are good in the air; Long fits that mold to the T.
Long also possesses a certain skill set that most Canaries defenders lacked last season, most notably ball control and positional awareness. Norwich City routinely gave the ball up in their own half last season leading to counter-attacking opportunities which will not bode well for them against Premier League opposition. Long could step in right away and add another dimension to a team with aspirations of remaining in the top flight for the 2020 season.
Aston Villa – Newly promoted side Aston Villa have been throwing cash all summer in preparation for their return to the Premier League. Villa would be a good fit for Long, who could thrive under the tutelage of assistant coach John Terry, a Premier League legend at his position.
However, Aston Villa have already spent over $100-million on retooling the squad, including purchase of five defenders: Tyrone Mings (Bournemouth), Kortney Hause (Wolves), Ezri Konsa (Brentford), Matt Targett (Southampton) and most recently Bjorn Engels from Reims. I doubt there’s any money in the transfer kitty for Aaron Long.
Leicester City – LCFC immediately came to mind when mulling over possible EPL suitors for Aaron Long, especially if they are forced to sell Harry Maguire. Maguire has reportedly submitted a transfer request and the club are fielding offers for the England international. Long’s strengths would be a “like for like” replacement for the bruiting center-back as both players don’t mind getting forward and excel in the air.
Jonny Evans (31), Christian Fuchs (33) and Wes Morgan (35) are all solid defenders, but are a bit long in the tooth and the latter [Morgan] has clearly lost a step. As evidenced by his exclusion from the Jamaican National Team for this summer’s Gold Cup tournament.
Filip Benkovic and Caglar Soyuncu look to be Leicester’s center-back pairing of the future, but there are question marks with both youngsters. Leicester has also been linked with a $45-million move for Brighton’s Lewis Dunk, however that is contingent on selling Maguire. Long would be a good back up option for a club trying to break back into the top six next season.
Sheffield United – Sheffield United is back in the Premier League after getting promoted twice in the last three seasons. United was tied with Middlesbrough for best defense in the EFL Championship in 2018-19, conceding 41 goals in 46 matches with 21 clean sheets to boot. So it seems a bit farfetched to think that they’d be the club making a move for Long, but it’s a good fit tactically.
Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder employs three center-halves in defense and his system allows for the outside CB’s to “overlap” and get forward, something Long does very well for RBNY. Ireland international John Egan plays centrally while Chris Basham and Jack O’Connell are given the freedom to interchange and contribute offensively. Basham scored four goals with one assist last season for the Blades while O’Connell found the net 3 times and added 3 assists. Sheffield also has veterans Richard Stearman and Phil Jagielka on the team, but neither are expected contribute much.
I’m not sure Aaron Long would sign up for a move to Sheffield United unless there was big money attached to it or playing time guarantees. But you have to admit, it would be fun to watch him bomb into the midfield for scoring opportunities every weekend.
It remains to be seen what the future holds for Aaron Long. However, one thing is for certain. New York Red Bulls will be hard pressed to lift their first MLS Cup trophy at the end of the season without him on the pitch.