Aaron Long celebrates with Tom Barlow after scoring the game-winning goal in the Red Bulls’ win, 1-0, over the New England Revolution on October 28 (Credit: Getty Images)

The New York Red Bulls reportedly rejected a trade offer for USMNT star Aaron Long during the ongoing offseason. Despite the roster looking fluid at times, reports surfaced that the team refused to even consider parting ways with the center-back.

The reports varied on where the interest was coming from. Multiple Major League Soccer teams seemed to want the 29-year-old, allegedly for a fee that would rival the league-record. In the past RBNY has declined offers upwards of five million from teams in France and, as recently as last winter, an English Championship club.

In an offseason filled with moves this sticks out. Five players on loan were not re-signed. Players like Daniel Royer and Kyle Duncan had options declined. If the team was making waves with the roster, moving Long for a hefty haul makes sense.

It’s clear however just how much Gerhard Struber values the California native. After going down with a torn Achilles early in 2021 the team struggled on the backline. Trying to fill the void at center-back was nearly useless. Players like Tom Edwards were exposed often. This offseason, the team has only picked up one defender. Even then, Dylan Nealis is more likely a replacement for the Belgian bound Duncan than Long.

Despite not playing almost any games in 2021 Long is still worthwhile. While he hasn’t played for the U.S. Men’s National Team in a competitive fixture in months he still commands a spot at training camp. It’s unlikely he makes the final roster for the final set of qualifiers (minus an unfortunate injury or COVID case) but Gregg Berhalter knows what he has. In that vein, so does Struber.

Both RBNY & the USMNT are looking to age down. There has been countless articles about how the national team has had it’s youngest rosters ever against teams like Mexico (and won) in the past year. But now look at how RBNY have treated the offseason. Two of the new signings are homegrown talent, one is from New York Red Bulls II, and another is a 17-year-old from Venezuela. Struber has always excelled when working with younger players whether that be as a reserve team coach in Austria or in the Champions League with Wolfsberger AC.

However, youth does not stop MLS offenses. Long is still a critical piece if the team wants to be competitive. The CB commands possession whenever he has the ball. He isn’t afraid to put his body on the line against the opposition. He’s consistently been one of the best passers out of the backfield in season’s where he’s played a majority of games (3.5 out of five seasons). Struber’s fascination with the diamond formation between the attackers needs someone at the bottom to set up attacks when needed. Long can be that, but we’ll need to see him play it out.

The Red Bulls are also going to be without another key piece of the backline for much, or possibly all of, this upcoming season. It’s been announced that Andrés Reyes will miss four to six months with a foot injury. The injury, described as a Jones Fracture (pinkie toe), happened during a personal training session during the offseason. It could very well mean that the team knew about this injury ahead of time. Doubling down on Long because of it makes complete sense. However, the previous history of turning down offers could also be a sign it was never in the cards.

Regardless, without Reyes the team is down another center-back. With the departure of team captain Sean Davis, Long will be the most senior player in the area of the backline. He’ll need to command both Nealis brothers (Sean and Dylan) along with new loan signing Lucas Monzón. John Tolkin came into his own as 2021 developed but he still felt like an understudy to Andrew Gutman. If he needs any more time before becoming an on-field leader, Long will be the player to lead him there.

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