Allie Long doesn’t mind shifting positions for the simple fact that it makes her a well-rounded player.
A central midfielder for most of her career with the U.S. women’s national team and the Portland Thorns, Long was moved to center back for recent international matches by coach Jill Ellis.
The results have been mixed, but Long says she is dedicated to doing her part to make a new three-back system work if that’s the direction the national team goes.
“If we can get it right, then it could be very, very successful,” she said. “I think it just takes time.”
Ellis is experimenting with players and formations as the Americans take the first steps toward defending their World Cup title in 2019. The team plays a pair of exhibitions against Russia starting on Thursday night in Frisco, Texas, then again on Sunday in Houston.
The United States is coming off a disappointing finish in the four-team SheBelieves Cup early last month.
With a 1-0 loss to England before a 3-0 loss to France, the U.S. dropped consecutive matches for the first time since the 2014 Algarve Cup. The Americans hadn’t lost by such a margin on home soil since a 3-0 loss to Germany in Portland, Oregon, in a semifinal of the 2003 World Cup.
“I think the France game was unfortunate. But I also know that we needed those games. We need to kind of fail and not figure it out right away so that we could learn, and we could see and we could fix it,” Long said.
She spoke at the opening of training camp for the Thorns as the team readies for National Women’s Soccer League season. With the Thorns since 2013, Long has established herself as one of the league’s best at her position.
“I’ve had struggles taking a right wing and moving to the left before. It’s a brand new world,” Thorns coach Mark Parsons said. “This is a player being pushed to center back playing against some of the best forwards in the world in the SheBelieves, and still finding a way to want to get better and take it head on.”
A lot more than just a position move has happened for Long in the past year, both personally and professionally.
After she missed out on making the roster for the 2015 Women’s World Cup, which the United States won, Long was selected to the U.S. Olympic team.
In Brazil last summer, the Americans were ousted in the quarterfinals by Sweden, which won the silver medal. It was the earliest Olympic exit ever for the United States, which had won three straight gold medals.
Ellis started experimenting with a new three-back defense last fall. The idea was to use Long to distribute out of the back.
“Initially when Jill told me, `Hey, you’re playing center back,’ I was like, `OK, I’ll try it.’ I watch a lot of soccer and I try to learn from the best of the best. So usually the center back or the 3-back is kind of like the quarterback. I was open to that,” Long said. “I love being that central pivot to always be on the ball and start the attack.”
But at least against France, the shift also made it incumbent on Long to defend against one of the world’s top players, Eugenie Le Sommer, who got past her twice.
With several players out of the Russia matches because of injury, Ellis will likely use the matches to try new players and different combinations. Tobin Heath (back), Lindsay Horan (hip flexor) and Morgan Brian (knee) are all out, paving the way for 17-year-old Jaelin Howell and 16-year-old Sophia Smith.
After the Russia friendlies, there’s a quick turnaround for Long to be ready for the Thorns’ NWSL opener on April 15. Portland is anxious to get the season started after losing last season to the Western New York Flash in the playoffs.
On the personal side, Long married longtime boyfriend Jose Batista last fall. She also has two new puppies, Shay and Kass.
“I got them from the Puppy Bowl,” she said, laughing. “Yes, it’s true.”
Long also said her on-field shift moves are already playing dividends in her game because it has helped her communicate and organize, and become a better central mid.
“I love being on the ball,” she said. “As long as I’m on the ball, I’m fine.”
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