For Portland Thorns FC midfielder Allie Long, playing for the U.S. Women’s National Team isn’t only a goal, it’s something she aspires to do in 2014.
With a successful first year in the NWSL behind her, Long has been adamant about her national team desire and is putting the focus on the upcoming season as her chance to be noticed.
“After the 2013 season, I feel I wanted to get better in every aspect of my game,” Long said. “I want to keep pushing the limits to how far I can go and I don’t ever want to settle where I am at.”
The midfielder knows a thing or two about making an international team roster having played for the U.S. at the under 20, 21 and 23 levels.
She has been called up once before in July 2010. Since that lone opportunity, she’s played on four different teams and is in a different place she was four years ago.
“Not only am I a better player now than the last time I was called into camp, but I’m a different person,” Long said. “It has taken me a while to realize what I need to do as an athlete on and off the field to get where I want to go.”
Long isn’t the first player to aspire to play for her country and won’t be the last but her situation begs the question: what does it take to play for the U.S. Women’s National Team?
“A national team player is qualified by being dominant in their position,” said Long. “Being the best at what they do but also by the work they are willing to put in to remain the best.”
Becoming the best has been a goal she’s strived for every step of her career.
During last season, doubts were raised about Long’s ability. Many called the midfielder slow, and overly aggressive questioning her playmaking abilities and leaving many to deem her as having an outside chance to make the national team.
“I love it, it motivates me to hear that people say that I can’t or I won’t,” Long said. “Not only does it make me want it that much more but it’s also something that pushes me in training to work harder.”
Four months after the conclusion of the NWSL season, the Huntington. N.Y. native, went on loan to Chelsea where she competed in the International Women’s Club Championship in Japan. Chelsea finished as runner ups in the tournament to INAC Kobe Leonessa.
Long had a brief stint with French club Paris Saint-Germain F.C. in 2011 scoring 4 four goals in 12 matches.
“Anytime you play it’s an opportunity to get better and add things to your game,” said Long. “We lost in the final against an excellent Japanese team in INAC Kobe and I think it helped me to prepare for future great competition.”
Over the course of Long’s career, the U.S. have had a flux of talented midfielders. The summer she received her call up; Carli Lloyd, Heather O’Reilly and Shannon Boxx were seasoned players under Pia Sundage and young players like Lauren Holiday and her University of North Carolina teammate Tobin Heath were on the rise.
Long points to the depth of the midfielders around her as a possible reason for being overlooked.
“They have great players centrally who have been there for a very long time that have been successful for them, why change something when it’s working?” Long said. “But mixing it up might just be what the team needs to be even better.”
Long faces stiff competition in the upcoming NWSL season where a number of U.S. players are back at home in the NWSL awaiting the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
With U.S. head coach Tom Sermanni expressing his desire to give any player who displays talent a shot, Long knows that next season she has to play consistently well in every game.
In Portland, the midfielder has the benefit of two star forwards in Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair to showcase her playmaking ability. Long has displayed flashes of being a playmaker and facilitating the players around her, and knows she must be consistent with maintaining possession to have a shot at cracking the national team roster.
“I think Sermanni would view my playmaking ability with these forwards as valuable and crucial, especially with Alex,” Long said. “The better I can assist Alex and Sinclair in scoring goals, the better off our team will be and a winning team almost speaks for itself.”
Over the offseason Long has noticed her own growth and development on and off the field. But like all NWSL players, she can’t wait to get back on the pitch and play her game.
“I am always learning and growing and trying to be the best player I can be,” Long said. “At age 26, these next years are the prime of a player’s career, there is so much more I have to give to this game and so much further I can go.”