With the two-time MLS All-Star and former MLS Defender of the Year Aaron Long set to don the Black & Gold in 2023, LAFC’s newly minted center back Aaron Long is returning home to Southern California to play in front of family and friends regularly for the first time in nearly a decade.

But while you may know about this former New York Red Bulls captain’s leadership anchoring backlines on the international stage, here are 10 things you may not know about Aaron Long:

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1. LONG CONVERTED FROM CENTER-MID TO CENTERBACK

That’s right. Long entered MLS as a center midfielder when drafted 36th overall by the Portland Timbers in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft. Long saw action in the role while on loan with the USL’s Sacramento Republic, and then in an ensuing stint with the Seattle Sounders. Long declined a contract offer from the Sounders II, which would pave his way to New York, and help him ultimately earn the coveted roster spot on the Red Bulls first team.  

However, the move was conditioned on a positional move to center back. While uncertain at first, Long fell in love with the position.

How did it turn out? The former center-midfielder has since earned MLS Defender of the Year, USL Defender of the Year and U.S. Soccer Male Player of the Year Finalist honors in only 161 matches played on the backline.

2. HE GREW UP A JACK-OF-ALL-SPORTS

Long comes from a strong line of athletes, and that undoubtedly helped with his positional transition. With his parents playing basketball and softball, Long was immersed in a variety of sports at a very young age. And by variety – we mean: karate, boxing, baseball, gymnastics, archery, tennis, basketball, football and soccer to name a few. While an aspect from each of those sports is found in Long’s approach on the pitch, it was the early exposure that allowed a natural love for soccer to bloom following early success as a two-year-old - lining up against kids twice his age in Oak Hills, California in San Bernardino County.

Growing up in SoCal – Long was an All-Mojave River League selection in soccer from 2006-08 and an All-Conference selection in football his senior year (2009-10), leading the Serrano Diamondbacks to the CIF Finals and league championship.  

Whether it’s ranking No.4 in MLS for most aerial duels won in 2022 (103), or lettering as a high school football defender picking off quarterbacks throughout Southern California, defense has clearly been part of the DNA.

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3. …AND A JACK-OF-ALL-TRADES

The blueprint for Long’s journey to MLS comes also in a literal sense. Long began his professional career in the USL from 2014-2016, and with USL teams carrying active rosters for only nine months of the year, the then 23-year-old Long worked construction each offseason to make ends meet.

In her best-selling book, author Angela Duckworth defines Grit as having the passion and perseverance for long-term goals – and this is what makes Long a pro’s pro. He exchanged his tools for other hardware in winning a USL Championship and being named the USL Defender of the Year.

4. HE CUTS A PREGAME WITH A CORTADO

A what? An almost-secret amongst coffee lovers, a cortado is a coffee drink of Spanish origin with a roughly equal amount of warm milk. It is a literal translation meaning “cut.” Just like in soccer, it’s about a similar ratio and in particular, a well-executed 1:1. Long became hooked on them early in his career from former teammate Omar Gonzalez and has since become a must-pregame ritual.

5. … WITH A PLAYLIST FOR THE AGES

Pregame always has a playlist. For Aaron Long, you’ll always find a mix of R&B and Rap filled with Drake, The Weeknd and Jay-Z over his ear. And of course, Long’s playlist isn’t complete without working in Justin Bieber. Yes, Long is a Bieber fan, and Bieber is an LAFC fan, as he took in the MLS Cup from seats next to the pitch.

6. LONG’S FIRST TEAM DEBUT CAME IN CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

Starting in your first team debut and at a new position? Oh, and it’s in CONCACAF Champions League? No pressure.

7. A TOP-RANKED TWO-WAY DEFENDER IN MLS HISTORY

Long joins the Black & Gold on the heels of becoming the highest scoring-defender in Red Bulls history, accounting for more than twice that of any other New York defender since he was drafted into MLS. Among all active MLS defenders in the same span, Long is tied for No.9 in scoring and shares the No.3 ranking for goals, the most amongst the group in 2022 alone. Pretty exciting thought that Long will be joining a backline featuring the top-scoring defender in MLS, Ryan Hollingshead.

2022 also saw Long in the MLS Top 10 for most shots on target (T-No.7).

8. HE’S A SOCAL LOCAL

The 2018 MLS Defender of the Year is a graduate of Serrano High (Phelan, Calif.), where the then-midfielder played for two additional soccer clubs (Apple Valley Storm and Arsenal FC South) to propel straight into the University of California-Riverside as a four-year starter, making 70 appearances (65 starts) with the Highlanders.

In his junior season at UC-Riverside, Long trained with two MLS clubs, the Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake, which led to making 17 additional appearances with the PDL club FC Tucson during his junior and senior years of college. Long graduated with two All-Big West honors (First and Second Team selections).

9. HIS IDOL GROWING UP WAS PATRICK VIEIRA

And his favorite athlete? Kobe Bryant.

Enough said.

10. THE NATIONAL TEAM IS UNBEATEN WHEN LONG IS CAPTAIN

In only his third appearance with the National Team, Long was named captain - marking the first of five occurrences of wearing the armband with the USMNT. The National Team is unbeaten, when the 2019 U.S. Soccer Male Player of the Year Finalist donned the captain’s band on the national stage.

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