West Ham is looking to sign one of the top defenders in MLS to bolster its squad. Unfortunately for the Premier League club, work permit issues may scupper the transfer.
Sky Sports in England reported that West Ham’s inability to acquire a work permit for Aaron Long may slam the breaks on a potential transfer from the New York Red Bulls. Long reportedly has a $5 million release clause and Sky Sports claims Long also has interest from Marseille, Fiorentina, Rennes and Lyon.
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Long’s career has been a long story of never giving up, and his career growth over the past few seasons has been very impressive. After barely playing for the Seattle Sounders in 2014 and then playing as a holding midfielder for the USL club, Sounders 2 in 2015, Long was moved back to centerback and excelled in 2016 with New York Red Bulls II. He led the side to the USL Cup title and was named defender of the year.
A year later, with the New York Red Bulls first team, he solidified and stepped right into the backline and is now the defending MLS Defender of the Year. His play in 2017 led to getting a couple of caps in 2018 for the U.S. Men’s National Team under coach Dave Sarachan, and he’s moved into a starting role under Gregg Berhalter, starting five of the six USMNT games at the 2019 Gold Cup this summer.
Unfortunately, UK work permit laws mean that Long – with the U.S. now in the top 30 – would have had to play at least 60 percent of all USMNT games over the past two years, and that just hasn’t happened. It’s a common issue over the past decade for USMNT players looking to move to England. Juan Agudelo never qualified for a work permit while at Stoke City in 2014, while Zack Steffen still hasn’t earned a work permit to stay with Manchester City.
It’s also not the first time West Ham has looked to MLS. Sporting Kansas City’s Graham Zusi was once a target of the club, and it signed Doneil Henry for a two-year period, though the then-young Canadian made no appearances.
It’s a huge moment in Aaron Long’s career. At 26-years old, he’s at the prime of his career, though with less wear and tear on the body compared to many others. It would be the perfect time for him, personally, to make the move abroad and see if he can take his career to the next level.
And yet, MLS and the Red Bulls organization has been stingy so far accepting a transfer request, according to reports, and it may not matter anyway if Long isn’t able to get a work permit.
Marseille would be an interesting choice, since the club is owned by former Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt. But it’s looking more likely that Long will remain with the Red Bulls in the short term. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the USMNT, it does hurt his potential growth as a player, provided he could break into the Premier League starting lineup.