Speaking to the media this week in Carson during the national team’s annual January camp, Long was asked about her role in defense, and she said it was a position she was continuing to learn and develop in.
“It’s like an extremely holding, holding mid, but I love it, getting the ball and starting the attack like the quarterback,” she said. “Obviously I have to keep learning it, and it’s different, but I really like it and it’s growing on me, for sure.”
Long’s position at the back for the U.S has divided opinion, with some accepting that her range of passing and reading of the game could see her settle into the role and others suggesting the shift removes her goal threat and potentially leaves her exposed with no line of defense behind her.
However, Long said that playing the two roles for club and country is going to make her a better player, helping her better read her defenders in Portland, and her midfield with the national team.
“That was one of the first things that I noticed, that this is going to make me so much better in my actual position, and I feel like I am learning from not playing there (in midfield). In an ironic way, it’s actually helping me become a better six.”
With no major tournament for the U.S until the World Cup in 2019, there is now the opportunity for Ellis to tweak and experiment with her squad. Long acknowledged that the players were being encouraged to try things in training this week, and were perhaps able to play with a bit more freedom.
“That’s a really good point, the next two years are like evaluating. But also, I was playing in training and Tony (Gustavsson, assistant coach) was like ‘try things, you’re in practice, this is your time to make mistakes, and that’s okay.’ He wants me to try to hit those long balls and try to play those passes that could be picked off, but just to be in those situations and literally grow.”
Although there is no World Cup or Olympics, there are huge games this year against great competition.
“Every time we’re practicing here,” Long said, “it’s preparing us to try different things against these great teams, and then we’ll see where we are at.”
Long has a history of looking to prove her doubters wrong, almost playing with a similar underdog mentality to that of Carli Lloyd. Now a regular in Ellis’s squad, she was asked whether her mindset was different from the player who was on the periphery of the squad, fighting for a spot on the roster.
“It is different, but I’m still the same person who wants to be the best player I can be. I’m so competitive and I want to win every time I step on the field, and playing for this team intensifies that.
“When your dream is just to get there, and now that I’m here, you set different goals. But the desire to be the best in that environment is still there.”