Long was his usual dependable self defensively and wasn’t culpable for either Galaxy goal. His efforts are a major reason why the Red Bulls were able to topple one of the top teams in the league this year.
The three points are massive for the Red Bulls, a second straight win erasing the sour taste from this season’s slow start. It was a confidence booster from Long, going against world-renowned striker Zlatan Ibrahimović and looking the part of a dominant center back. Then again, this has become the norm for Long.
He won his battles in the air, didn’t shy away from playing physically when necessary and was solid positionally. His distribution was crisp and perhaps most impressively, he wasn’t baited into any extracurriculars by Ibrahimović, notorious for his mastery of mind games.
Long, now a regular with the United States national team took from his solid shift against the Galaxy’s world-class forward confidence that can be carried into this summer. The Red Bulls central defender will almost certainly be called up to the national team for the upcoming Gold Cup.
“It’s big time,” Long told MSGNetworks.com. “Any time you go against a great forward and come out with a win, you feel good. There’s individual battles, you want to win a couple out there. I think I can take some lessons I learned out there and take it to the national team, it will be helpful.”
For Long, going against Ibrahimović on Saturday afternoon is just another part of his learning curve.
Cut twice by two other MLS teams before arriving in New York in 2016, the 26-year old was originally a midfielder before switching to the backline. He spent a year with the New York Red Bulls II in the USL II before being integrated into the senior team.
He was named the league’s best defender last year, in large part due to his showing in big games. Last September against Atlanta United in Red Bull Arena, Long kept the league’s top scorer, Josef Martinez, in check. It was vintage stuff from the Red Bulls’ defender.
Long admits that matches featuring the likes of Martinez and Ibrahimović are exciting, but they certainly don’t intimidate him. There’s anticipation he admits, but it certainly isn’t old hat either.
“You know you’re going to face a high-caliber striker so you have to prepare for that,” Long said. “But the league is growing so much, I feel like every team has a big name striker…and if not, they’re looking for one. The league has grown so much, so it’s becoming more normal.”
It was a physical match between both sides, with Long twice walking off the field following airborne collisions with Ibrahimović. Both times, it looked as if Long might need to be substituted but after receiving attention from the training staff on the sidelines, he re-entered the pitch and picked up on his strong defensive outing.
“Good, just a little bump on the cheek [but] fine,” Long said.
“I don’t know if it was an elbow or a shoulder, to be honest. I have no idea what hit but it hurts. I went down. It was simple.”
[Watch the Red Bulls Take On the Montreal Impact Wednesday at 7:30 PM on MSG+ & MSG GO. Get the App Now.]