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Aaron Long’s rejected transfer bid shows how MLS helps and holds back the USMNT

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A story about something called MLS service years and transfer revenue kept by clubs

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SOCCER: JUL 03 CONCACAF Gold Cup Semifinals - Jamaica v USA Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Reports in several outlets including ESPN have noted that the New York Red Bulls have received a transfer bid for Aaron Long but have turned it down. According to Jeff Carlisle, “one source said that moving Long ‘isn’t something that the Red Bulls are interested in’ and ‘isn’t an ongoing thing.”’ Surely though, every player has a price, but the Red Bulls are in a position where they will never see the full value for Long thanks to MLS transfer policies. In a sense, his rise has been a remarkable success and an example of how the league helps the national team, but the ins and outs of his transfer - or lack thereof - shows how the league also holds players back.

Long is on a pretty solid salary for an MLS center back, his guaranteed compensation is $800,000.00 for the contract he signed this past offseason. The center back has also had a terrific rise in his career. He went from MLS draft pick to failing to catch on in MLS to starring for the NYRB II USL team. Given the chance in the league he rose to be the 2018 Defender of the Year and has become a starting center back for the national team. The 26 year-old has the ideal tools of a modern center back. He’s a good passer, solid in the air, has great positional awareness, and the immeasurable quality of having swagger and confidence on the field. I mean, you don’t rock the Benny Feilhaber hairstyle if you aren’t sure of yourself.

As far as the downside of being in MLS for Long, well he’s a bit stuck in the league. It’s hard to find his true value, but The Athletic reported that the offer was around the $5 million that Matt Miazga fetched when he moved to Chelsea. Importantly, as a homegrown player, Miazga’s fee went to the club entirely.

On the one hand, the Red Bulls may just not want to let him go, it’s fair to consider that. The team is in the middle of its season and can still win the Eastern Conference. If they want to win MLS Cup, Long is a key piece of doing that. On the other, it’s important to consider the team’s willingness to sell Long is also informed by the fact that they will not recoup the full amount of the transfer fee as they did with Miazga. At least 25% of it would go to the league assuming the time he spent on the USL rosters of Seattle Sounders II and NYRB II contribute to his MLS service years. In the case that they don’t, Long is only halfway through his second service year and his transfer may only net the club half of the fee.

Obviously, if the Red Bulls were to sell Long they would want full value, especially given how important he is to their chances in the post-season. This deeply complicates how the team values Long and how that may factor into their willingness to transfer him. For the national team, Long would be better off fighting for playing time and hopefully starting in the Premier League. MLS has been a great setting for Long to prove himself, it’s doubtful he would have gotten a similar chance bouncing around the second or third divisions of Europe. Still, this may be his best shot at moving onto a more challenging league and getting a chance to improve against tougher competition.