Following the historic triumph of the U.S. Women’s National Team at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, head coach Jill Ellis called up several new faces to join the team during the final stretch of the Victory Tour. These included Jaelene Hinkle, Lindsey Horan, Samantha Mewis and Emily Sonnett. Allie Long was not among them.
When January Camp rolled around in 2016 signaling a fresh start to an Olympic year, that same group joined a core group of veterans at camp. The team also added another new name in the addition of then-17-year-old Mallory Pugh. But once again, Long, who had played in her first four international games in 2014, did not receive the call.
“Last season [in the NWSL] was probably the best season I had as a professional player,” said Long. “I got several awards, which are things I normally wouldn’t care about but that people do notice. So everyone started telling me to be prepared because I could get called to the National Team. Then the first camp came and I wasn’t called. Honestly, I was really upset, but I realized that it was out of my control and so I had to respect that.”
The U.S. went on to play two major tournaments early in the year with CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying in February and the SheBelieves Cup in March. Long once again watched from afar. Doubt crept in. Maybe her time had passed? At-28-years old, her window for international soccer was closing. But she never stopped trying to find a glimmer of hope and remained positive.
“I remember looking back and having days when I would just be thinking, ‘Is this ever going to happen?”, said Long. “I was working so hard and I was frustrated. There were a lot of ups and downs, but I remained faithful to what I was doing and believed I was going to get called. I don’t know why but I just knew it was going to happen.”
“I came in [to Portland] for NWSL preseason and my coach [Mark Parsons] was impressed. He and Jill spoke and not long after I was called back in. I was a bit surprised because I thought I would have to play a little more in the league this season, but I was just so thankful and happy. And I knew this time I was prepared.”
Her arduous off-season trainings had paid off in the form of improved fitness, which impacted all parts of her game, and Long joined the WNT camp in Orlando in late March.
“I am in communication with the NWSL coaches and I heard she had a fantastic preseason,” said Ellis. “After speaking with her coach and seeing her in the preseason, I thought we should take another look at her and from that very first camp, her fitness was better than I’ve ever seen it. She’s always had good ability, but she just came in at a higher level than before.”
On April 6, she started for the USA against Colombia. It was the first time she had taken the field for the National Team since a friendly on Aug. 20, 2014 against Switzerland.
She not only started the game, she also scored her first two international goals. It was a sudden turn of events for someone who just weeks before believed her National Team chances could be over.
“All of the offseason I worked extremely hard,” Long said. “I went to Houston where I had no friends, no family, and I was just with my fiancée and I trained. It was different, but I was at the fields every single day playing pickup and playing with guys. Every [WNT] camp I would try not to pay attention but I would eventually see it and I would be sad because I wasn’t in it. I was so happy when it finally happened.”
Since that March call up, Long has been with the U.S. in every camp, including a pair of friendlies against Japan in June, and the team’s upcoming match against South Africa on July 9 in Chicago.
Aside from her off-season training, Long attributes a great deal of her success story to the NWSL and to her team, the Portland Thorns.
“I think that I’ve needed the Thorns more than they’ve needed me,” Long stated. “Just the fact that there is a league that allows the coaches to see you and where you can play with the best in the world is so great. I think the reason that I got called in is largely because of the league. You train every day, you have games every weekend, and you’re getting better every single day. It’s been huge and I’m so grateful.”
Now, only three months after she rejoined the National Team, Long is competing hard for a chance to be part of a U.S. Olympic Team which will go in search of its fourth consecutive gold medal. She fully understands the magnitude should she achieve such a feat.
“It would mean everything,” Long said. “I have thought about it, obviously, and I feel like all of the hard work, the times that I’ve struggled have led me to this. Now I’m myself and I’m confident. It would be the most humbling experience and such an honor to represent my country in Brazil.”