Aaron Long was given up on by two MLS teams. Now he is the best defensive player in the league.
The 26-year-old Long was named MLS Defender of the Year on Wednesday after helping the New York Red Bulls allow a league-low 33 goals.
Long added three goals and two assists in 34 matches (31 starts) but the offensive contributions are just a bonus on top of his stellar defensive work.
“It means a lot,” Long told the Red Bulls’ website of the award. “It is judging your body of work for the full season. It shows that I am on the right path, helping my team, doing what I can to help the team win.”
Long received 26.52 percent of the vote to edge out Chad Marshall (20.93) of the Seattle Sounders. Atlanta United teammates Michael Parkhurst (7.1) and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez (5.78) were third and fourth, respectively, while Kemar Lawrence (5.6) of the Red Bulls was fifth.
Long was initially a second-round pick by the Portland Timbers in the 2014 draft. The Timbers released him and he had a short shift with the Seattle Sounders before again being out of work.
Long joined the Red Bulls in 2016 and didn’t see a single minute of action.
He had a breakthrough season in 2017 when he played in 31 games (30 starts) and continued his rise this season when he was a member of the MLS All-Star team.
“They really gave me a belief in myself and helped implement me into the system since Day 1,” Long said of the Red Bulls. “I mean they were calling me into the office to do film with me knowing there was going to be a learning curve. This club has really taken me under their wing and let me blossom under their tactics.”
Long and the Red Bulls host the Columbus Crew on Sunday in the second match of their Eastern Conference semifinal series. The Crew won the opening match 1-0.