|Courtesy of the Red Bulls.|
Red Bulls center back Aaron Long has been named the 2018 MLS Defender of the Year, the league announced on Wednesday.
Long earns MLS Defender of the Year honors in just his second MLS season, two years removed from being named USL Defender of the Year in 2016 with NYRB II. He also plays for the United States Men's National team.
"On behalf of the entire club I'd like to congratulate Aaron for this well-deserved recognition," said Red Bulls Sporting Director Denis Hamlett. "Watching Aaron's growth on and off the field, from USL Defender of the Year in 2016 to MLS All-Star, U.S. national team player and now MLS Defender of the Year, has been tremendous. Our organization takes pride in developing young players and giving them opportunities to succeed. Aaron is an excellent example of what can happen when a young player dedicates themselves to learning and becoming better every day."
At 26, Long has had quite the season to remember, being named an MLS All-Star, earning his first call-up and start for the USMNT and now being honored as the league's best defender, as voted by the media, all MLS players and technical staffs. A breakdown of voting is below. He becomes the first player in club history to earn Defender of the Year and fourth player to record a major award.
"We are very proud of Aaron, and happy for him," said Red Bulls Head Coach Chris Armas. "Aaron has had a unique story to get to this point and has established himself as a real leader of our backline and team. It's great to see him get this recognition, it's so well deserved."
In his second full season, Long started 31 of the 34 league matches, anchoring a Red Bulls defense that recorded 14 shutouts and allowed a league-low 33 goals in 34 games in MLS. Offensively, he tallied career-bests in both goals (3) and assists (2). The Oak Hills, California, native was not only named to his first MLS All-Star match, but started and played a game-high 62 minutes to help the MLS All-Stars tie Italian-side Juventus, 1-1.
Long ranked in the top 20 league-wide in five defensive categories this season, including fourth in aerials won (101), fifth in clearances (146), eighth in duels won (176), tied for eighth in blocks (24) and 16th in interceptions (16).
For country, Long earned his first senior cap in October's 1-1 draw against Peru, playing a full 90 minutes as part of a backline that allowed just three shots on goal. He received his first national team call - at any level - for the September camp and friendlies against Brazil and Mexico, and yesterday was named to the November roster for matches against England and Italy.
Long joined the Red Bulls organization ahead of the 2016 season, where he was converted from midfielder to center back after signing with NYRB II, the club's USL affiliate. Long excelled in his new role, earning 2016 USL Defender of the Year honors and promotion to the First Team.
Long and the Red Bulls will continue their playoff run as they host Columbus Crew SC in Leg 2 of the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals on Sunday at Red Bull Arena. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.