Photo Credit: Dave Janosz

Red Bulls Captain Aaron Long Leaves, Now What?

The Major League Soccer (MLS) offseason is entering its final month before the 2023 season begins on Feb. 25 and in a recent press conference, the New York Red Bulls manager, Gerhard Struber discussed captain Aaron Long leaving the club.

A report posted by MLS Soccer dot com's Tom Bogert, says that a deal between Long and Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC) was reached on Jan. 3, 2023. New Jersey's only professional soccer team has benefitted from having Aaron Long in the center of its backline since he first appeared during the 2017 MLS Season. Long went on to play in over 150 games for Red Bull, score 12 goals and be named 2018 MLS Defender of the Year.

However, his career was not without bumps in the road for, during the summer of 2019, Long expressed serious interest in accepting a transfer to an European team. Offers came in from the Premier League's West Ham United as well as in France, but the Red Bull front office managed to keep their prized defender, which has been a big reason why the team remained competitive for the last four seasons.

Last year, the sturdy center back made it through the whole season but was partly to blame for the goal that Cincinnati scored that knocked his team out of the first round of the MLS Cup playoffs for the fourth straight season. It was a cruel ending to a career that had been marked by incredible consistency, hard work and leadership from the American, who has made 30 appearances for the United States Men's National Team, including being on their 2022 World Cup roster.

Moving Forward Without their Captain

This is the second consecutive season that Gerhard Struber and the Red Bulls will forge ahead after their captain has been signed by another MLS team. The 45-year-old former English Championship manager offered his thoughts on what this means for him as the head caoch and the club.

"We have a little bit of a situation in the backline, and we know [the caliber] player we lose with Aaron Long. I think he was in the last season or the whole time when he was here with the New York Red Bulls able to play as a big player and has [been] extremely successful with the club and we will miss him, 100%."

The New York Red Bulls have built their team into a strong defense over the last two years. Primarily, this is the case because of the development of two talented center-backs, Andres Reyes and Sean Nealis.

We have an interesting group of young talented players at the centerback position...Now, it's the time they take more and more responsibility in that direction, and I can see, especially, in the last week and also today in the training, a high motivated group of players and also, the group in the backline show me a very good attitude with players like Sean Nealis, Andes Reyes, and John Tolkin.

That was not all Struber said at the press conference, the 46-year-old Austrian also admitted who he feels could be the next Captain of the New York Red Bulls.

Yeah, obviously in this direction, Aaron [Long] was a very helpful captain in this direction with his leadership, power. At he same time we have interesting young players, that can take the responsibility. We have a handful players they can take this role, but I will use the next few weeks to decide. Sean [Nealis] is an interesting player for this role. He showed me this in the last two years that he takes responsibility.... We do not need to make a decision now. But, what we need every day is responsibility and the duty to do everything in the training and in this direction, I can feel a big group of players they are ready for more."

Now, they will have to think about what life will be without someone who was the heart and soul of their defense for the last five seasons. In terms of good news for Struber's team, their defense will still feature left back, John Tolkin who is following in Long's footsteps. The 21-year-old with the fleet feet from Chatham, New Jersey, did not just put in two great seasons in his introduction to MLS, he was also named to Team of the Week countless times throughout this past season. In addition, Tolkin has been called up to the USMNT for the first time in his career, per a report by the New York Red Bulls news website.

It's time for this embattled franchise to forge ahead, and to no longer harp on a painful recent playoff history or losing great players. It is time for Gerhard Struber and the whole coaching and training staff to do everything they can to help the next generation of Red Bull soccer players. This starts with players like John Tolkin, who has signed a seven-year extension to remain with Jersey's soccer team.

Anthony Paradiso