Allie Long figured she’d earned her trip to the World Cup when she heard Jill Ellis’ voice on the line and the U.S. national team coach sounded upbeat.
Long was considered on the bubble for the team that will seek to defend its title this summer in France, because of limited call-ups to exhibition games and some trouble with her knee.
But then that call came.
“At first I was like, this could either be good or bad,” Long said. “But she sounded really happy, so that made me feel a little calmer. And then she told me I made it.”
Long is among 23 players named to the team that is getting in its last three exhibition games this month before heading to Europe for the tournament, which opens June 7. Among those friendlies is a game Sunday in Santa Clara, California, against South Africa, which also made the World Cup field.
Long, a midfielder who plays with the Seattle Reign FC of the National Women’s Soccer League, has made 42 appearances with the national team since 2014 and has six goals.
But she was called up only sporadically in the past year as she dealt with a lingering knee injury. Long was on the provisional roster for the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tournament but did not make the final squad.
She also didn’t go to the team’s January training camp or the SheBelieves Cup tournament. Now fully healed and back in game shape, she came off the bench in April for games against Australia and Belgium.
So Long was considered a question mark for making the World Cup team.
But Ellis, for all her tinkering with lineups over the past two years, went with experience on the big stage in selecting the final 23. Long fell into that category because she had been on the team that played at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“I think that, well, No. 1, playing in the Olympics and (Ellis) seeing me in that environment, and just being on the team the last three years has given her a comfort level in knowing what she has in me,” Long said. “I think that I can offer consistency, and I’m someone in the midfield who can calm it down and just keep possession on the ball and win tackles off the ball.”
Long also suggested that her relationships with other players helped give her an edge. She spent five seasons on the NWSL’s Portland Thorns, where she played with Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath and Lindsey Horan, all of whom are on the squad for France. Now with the Reign, she plays alongside Megan Rapinoe.
“I know that she mentioned to me that that was something that she appreciated, just knowing that I had played with Tobin, Lindsey, Pinoe, Alex, and so many players and have good relationships with them on and off the field,” she said. “I think that played a role as well.”
Long, 31, is among the older players on the team, which includes 12 players who won the 2015 World Cup in Canada and 11 newcomers.
She wasn’t the only player considered on the bubble who eventually made the squad. Ellis also selected defender Ali Krieger and midfielder Morgan Brian, who both saw only limited call-ups with the team since the Olympics. Both were on the team that won in Canada.
“World Cups aren’t moments to invest in players, World Cups are about winning,” Ellis said in a conference call with reporters when her roster was announced. “So I think experience, for any coach, is going to weigh heavily in some of these decisions for sure.”
Long is just grateful for the opportunity, because earlier this year she wasn’t so sure she’d get it. Ellis called her in January and said she wouldn’t be invited to camp so that the coaching staff could look at other players.
Realistically, Long wasn’t quite healthy anyway, but it nevertheless was a blow.
“There were definitely times when I was like, ‘How is this going to happen?’ But every time I started to go down that path, I just wouldn’t let myself. … I worked hard, I was training hard every single day, and it motivated me by not being there (in camp) to be at my best every day in the offseason, so that when I did get my chance, I would be ready.”
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