Allie Long Fought Hard to Get Back into U.S. Picture
July 07, 2016
WHEN JILL ELLIS named her roster for a pair of United States women’s national team friendlies this past April, many fans raised their eyebrows at the inclusion of 28-year-old midfielder Allie Long.
After all, despite a standout campaign for the Portland Thorns in 2015, Ellis had failed to name Long to any of the first three rosters of 2016, including the January camp, Olympic qualifying in February, or the SheBelieves Cup in March.
Change to the U.S. roster is generally a slow process, and based on the first nine matches of 2016, Ellis had seemingly already narrowed down the pool she would use to select her eventual 18-player Olympic roster.
Long, however, took full advantage of the late opportunity against Colombia. Not only did she start in the first match of the back-to-back friendlies, but she managed to knock in two goals in the process. Now, heading into Saturday’s match against South Africa (1pm ET, Fox Sports 1), Long has placed herself firmly in Ellis’ mind as a potential Olympic roster selection.
Speaking to American Soccer Now, Long explained what the game against Colombia meant to her.
“I almost wanted to cry out of happiness,” recalled Long. “Anytime you put on the U.S. jersey, it’s an honor. After not making the World Cup team [in 2015], to having a great [club] season, to not being called in [this winter], to all the hard work and hours I put in the off-season, I just kept believing in the process, the journey.
“Getting my first international goal in that camp was so awesome, and I just felt like it was the beginning of something special.”
In 2015, Long led Portland in goals scored and finished tied for second in the National Women’s Soccer League. To top it off, she was included on the league’s Best XI.
Still, as the U.S. played a number of matches this winter, Long’s phone didn’t ring. And while she says she didn’t expect a call-up for the matches in April, she welcomed the surprise.
“It was unexpected because it was before the [NWSL] season even started,” said the New York native. “I thought maybe if [Ellis] would’ve seen me play in the season, and I had a really good beginning, I would get called in. But I had a really good preseason and I guess she called to check on me, to see how I was doing, and [Portland head coach] Mark [Parsons] had great things to say.”
“It was an awesome, awesome surprise."
Despite having not earned a cap for the U.S. since August 2014, Long says she never thought her chance to represent the U.S. internationally had ended. In fact, the lack of opportunities with the national team served as motivation to work harder and use this past offseason as an opportunity to push herself to another level.
“I’ve never trained as hard and I feel like I see the game differently, I feel the game differently, and I never thought it was over,” said the University of North Carolina alumna. “It was obviously disappointing after last season coming off probably my best professional season ever, not getting called, and I was definitely disappointed.
“But it kind of motivated me to just work super hard and really put everything into this offseason.”
There’s no denying Long’s excellent form. In 2016, she has helped the Thorns to the top of the NWSL table and started three of the last four matches for the U.S., including back-to-back matches against Japan last month.
“I feel I’m probably in the best physical shape and mental state that I’ve been in in a while,” she explained. “I feel really good and I’m really happy. I just continue to focus on myself and be the best player I can be, and the best teammate I possibly can be.”
One question surrounding Long, however, is where in the midfield she fits best. She has played in a variety of roles but insists that she feels completely comfortable as either a No. 6 or No. 8.
“The past two years with Portland I’ve been a No. 10 and I felt that was not my best position, but I was scoring goals and I was effective for Portland,” noted Long.
“I think I’ve always been a box-to-box [midfielder], I can attack and defend. [But] I love Sergio Busquets, so that’s someone I want to be the female version of. He’s a true No. 6.”
Over the years, Long’s pursuit of a roster spot on the national team has hit a number of bumps in the road. One came early in her career when she was playing in the now-defunct WPS. When the league went belly-up, American players outside the national team struggled to find places to play, or train. But Long says her dream of representing the Red, White and Blue kept her motivated during those years.
“I never felt worried,” she said. “I felt I would either go play overseas, or I would continue training and do whatever I could to continue to grow. My goal has always been to be on the United States women’s national team. That’s what drives me and motivates me—just to be one of the best players in the country.”
And when she did first draw notice from the national team, earning her first call-up at age 22, she admits the challenge overwhelmed her. It took those stumbles, plus help from the newly formed NWSL, to get her over the hump.
“I wasn’t ready then. Then the next [call-up], I was almost ready, but not really. I’ve always had to develop outside the national team which is almost the opposite of what most girls get to do,” Long said. “The leagues in the U.S. have played a crucial part to where I am right now. With the Thorns, I’ve always said I’ve needed them more than they’ve needed me.”
“The league has been a major key in my development as a player,” she added.
Now, Long finally appears ready to make her mark and earn a roster spot for the U.S. in a major competition. If selected, she says playing in the Rio Olympics would be the ultimate reward.
Representing the United States in Brazil “would be the most humbling, most grateful honor or experience I could really think of. It would represent hours of work and lots of tears and a lot of people believing in me and helping me,” she said. “My fiancé, his family’s Brazilian, he’s Brazilian. He has family in Brazil, so I couldn’t even tell you what it would mean.
“But I will probably cry when I’m notified [of making the team], or when the anthem is playing for the first game in Belo. It would be extremely, extremely special for me on all fronts.
“It would be the highlight of my career by far.”
John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow him on Twitter.