Why the Aaron Long Transfer Saga Is Still Going On — and Will Probably Continue Through the Winter

Avatar August 5, 2019 1198 Reads
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With both the Premier League and MLS transfer deadlines nearing, it feels unlikely that Aaron Long will be heading to England this summer. Long will be forced to at least play out the season in New Jersey after the disappointment of nearly going to Europe. His 27th birthday is in October. His window will not be open for a long time.

The New York Red Bulls apparently asked for $15 million in exchange for their prized center back. That figure is intentionally outrageous — it seems to signal their hesitancy to sell in the middle of the MLS season. Only a huge offer would be enough to convince NYRB to sell now, and they’re unlikely to receive such an offer.

Long’s agent got salty on Twitter over the situation, probably a calculated move to show his and Long’s dissatisfaction with the process. These MLS transfer sagas are often difficult for the players, who want to take whatever opportunity they can get to play in a big European league, only to be held back by their club, who lack incentive to immediately sell.

MLS single entity system is a problem

Unless you have a truly high-priced prodigy (think Alphonso Davies or Miguel Almiron), you may be better off milking your star for wins and attention domestically before selling at first opportunity. As Taylor Twellman talked about on an ESPN broadcast this weekend, the single-entity system means MLS takes significant portions of clubs’ transfer profits. The Red Bulls would prefer to see out the playoff run with their defensive rock rather than ship Long to West Ham and only recoup half of the fee.

It’s hard to argue with the Red Bulls’ thinking.

With Long in the lineup, they will have a legitimate chance at navigating a weird and inconsistent Eastern Conference in the playoffs. For years they have missed out on MLS Cup, and as this season trudges on without a whiff of the usual Supporters’ Shield contention, it feels like 2019 has been building up for a playoff run. Even in this post-Tyler Adams transition season, NYRB are gunning for their missing trophy as they edge toward the end of the Bradley Wright-Phillips/Luis Robles era. 

Losing Long could sink their MLS Cup chances. Selling for $4 or $5 million and forfeiting $2 million of that to MLS is not nearly enough of a trade-off. 

By winter, they probably will be more willing to sell, given the opportunity to scout and sign a Long replacement, as well as integrate that replacement into the team.

For Long, though, heading to Europe in the January window is obviously worse than going in August. He would have to break into a Premier League team midseason directly after a long MLS campaign. Injury or bad form in August, September and October could diminish his value or even cancel the sale, a potentially damaging development for both the player and the team.

Cautionary Acosta tale

The recent Luciano Acosta saga is something of a cautionary tale.

D.C. United came close to selling Acosta to PSG in the spring, only for the deal to fall apart at the final hour. It was devastating for Acosta, who wanted the move. As Acosta muddles through a disappointing MLS season, DCU could regret the decision not to sell high — the real Acosta has proven to be closer to the pre-Wayne Rooney version than to the dominant one of last season’s second half. The Argentine’s value has likely taken a hit.

Long is significantly better than Acosta, and is unlikely to spiral if the Red Bulls don’t pull the trigger in the next few days. NYRB will probably be able to sell for a similar price this winter. That won’t satisfy Long, who understandably wants to take his opportunity to make a huge career jump. 

But the Red Bulls want their shot at MLS glory, and there’s no reason to sacrifice that when MLS is going to dip their claws into the transfer fee anyway. 

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