The Portland Thorns are the defending National Women’s Soccer League champions. Amid injuries, the Thorns have yet to find the form of a champion under new head coach Paul Riley.
One player who has been a rose among the Thorns is midfielder Allie Long.
“She’s been our best player by a country mile so far,” said Riley on Long’s play this season.
Riley, who has known Long since her playing days with the Albertson Academy on Long Island, has seen a stark difference in her attitude.
“I think the one thing she’s developed over the last 12 months is the will to win, the competitive streak and a professional approach to the game, which maybe when she was younger she didn’t have,” he said.
“I wouldn’t say her attitude was bad, but I think her attitude to work harder and prepare herself day in and day out is better than it was. A lot of players never find that stop along the way, they never realize the sacrifices you have to make if you want to be the best, be playing with the best, want to play against the best teams in the world and be on the national team you have to sacrifice a lot.”
Long has demonstrated such a willingness to sacrifice that what Riley has seen from Long is almost a completely different player.
“Her work ethic in training is second to none. She wants to work after every practice, she wants to get there early before practice and that’s not the Allie of old. The Allie of old was just reliant on her talent and I think that’s a massive plus. She’s a good leader now, she’s 26 and I think it’s a perfect time for a player to develop,” Riley said.
When Riley was announced as the club’s manager back in December, it was certainly a welcome sign for Long.
“I was so happy and motivated. I wanted to come here and be the best player I possibly can be because I know his training sessions and his mentality is so good I knew I was only going to get better,” Long said.
The relationship between Riley and Long dates back to their association on Long Island, although Long wasn’t coached by the Thorns’ now head coach at Albertson. Long did get a chance to play under Riley in 2012 with the New York Fury. However, as time elapsed Riley became something of a mentor to Long.
“He’s always been, especially lately someone I can go to and talk soccer about whether it’s the national team or any game going on. He’s given me confidence and been a mentor in a sense just because I’ve known him for so long,” said Long.
One aspect of their relationship has been especially beneficial to Long. That has been Riley’s candor, even if at times brutally honest.
“He’s very professional and I really enjoy his personality on and off the field. He’s brutally honest and I love that,” she said. “Some coaches are scared to be as honest as he is.”
In Riley’s first season as coach, Long has flourished in an attacking midfield role, although she is equally comfortable further back in a holding capacity. Long has tallied four goals in nine games so far this season. She is second on the team behind Jessica McDonald‘s five.
“I think Paul has given me confidence in myself as a player and I’ve worked really hard the last two off-seasons, well most off-seasons, but specifically hard. My goal’s been to make the national team and so that’s kind of been my driving force and trying to get better and trying to get to the next level,” said Long. “It’s almost like I’m on a mission and to just be the best player I possibly can be. It’s all just kind of come together at this age and only looking to go up from here.”
While the lack of goals from other players has been a concern for Riley, Christine Sinclair only recently scored her first of the year, Long’s goal-scoring ability and overall play earned her an United States Women’s National Team call-up. She made her debut in the 1-1 draw with Canada during the May 8th friendly.
“It was such a blessing. I felt so grateful just to be called into camp let alone put on the jersey and get playing time. It was truly an amazing moment for me and something I’ll always remember,” Long said.
When Long found out she was going to be headed to the national team camp, it was a proud moment for the coach, who has overseen Long grow up into the player she has become.
“She’s always said she wanted to play on the national team, I hope I get an opportunity one day. Of course when she got it, she texted me and I wish I could hear the text talk, but you can’t. The text was just screaming at me,” said Riley. “She was screaming when she came into the office too.”
Long was on the field for 22 minutes in what has become the best rivalry in women’s soccer against Canada. Playing in a World Cup venue has also given Long a taste of what could be down the road for her.
“I have the same motivation and same drive and determination, that’s still instilled in me, but being at a venue and seeing it, just left a taste that gave me a little bit more motivation to get back there and be on the World Cup squad,” Long said.
Although Long played for now permanent head coach Jill Ellis with the U-20 team, the friendly presented a chance for her to impress at the senior level. While she was nervous that sometimes first appearance at the national team don’t always go so well, she tried not to think of that. Ellis’ words before the match certainly would have helped ease any anxiety.
“She said I did great and that I deserved to be there and I belonged there and her words have stayed with me and given me confidence. She said that before I played and told me she was confident and comfortable putting me in before the game and just to be ready,” said Long.
After making her first appearance under Ellis for the USWNT, Long hopes it’s the start of more. She was added to the squad for the friendlies against France this June 14 and 19 and hopes to take part in World Cup qualification and the eventual tournament.
“I really enjoyed my time I got to spend with her in camp. She’s a great coach and a great person and it was really exciting to see how she is as a coach and not just someone I was playing against or a team she was coaching against me,” said Long.
Long added, “She’s been great, she’s very deserving of the job and I’m excited for her and the opportunity.”
While Long hopes for more national team opportunities down the line, it isn’t a doubt that will be the case for her club coach.
“I think Allie can be a really big player for them for the next six, seven years,” Riley said.
MISSION: The Elite Clubs National League, Inc. (“ECNL”) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit member-based organization founded in 2009 to enhance the developmental experience of the female youth soccer players in the United States through:
Improving the competitive environment through creation of a true national competitive league with multiple flights;
Improving the process for identifying elite female soccer players for the U.S. Soccer youth national teams through a systematic scouting and identification program based on national competitions; and
Improving the daily training environment at top female youth soccer clubs through developing best practices and training and organizational guidelines for its member clubs.
GOAL: The goal of the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) is to change the landscape for elite female soccer players in the United States through innovative, player-centered programming and to enhance the overall experience by creating a better, more enjoyable, and more successful player, coach, and club development model.
The NPL was created to elevate and change the competitive youth soccer landscape by extending developmental principles espoused by U.S. Soccer into more age groups and clubs, by linking competition with player development and identification platforms, and by providing meaningful weekly competition culminating in the NPL Finals.
NPLs are independent leagues, unified under one national competition platform, and based on a common technical framework designed to improve long-term player development. The NPL provides a platform:
focused on long-term player development;
for the country’s top soccer clubs, allowing consistent, meaningful high-level games appropriately scheduled with higher training-to-game ratios;
that allows players to be scouted and evaluated by U.S. Soccer National Staff and Technical Advisors;
that is designed and structured by the clubs, based on the needs of the clubs; and
that provides an avenue for qualification for the NPL Champions Cup.
EXECUTING US CLUB SOCCER’S 10-YEAR VISION:
The NPL is an important component of US Club Soccer’s 10-year vision to refine the landscape for competitive youth soccer. This vision recognizes that:
Properly-structured youth soccer clubs are the vehicle through which player development occurs in the United States.
Clubs should play in leagues that provide meaningful games, allow establishment of the proper training-to-game ratio, and eliminate calendar congestion.
NPLs, as well as the best clubs, should be integrated in US Club Soccer’s id2 National Identification and Development Program, include Player Development Programs (PDPs) in select local markets, and work closely with U.S. Soccer staff regarding player identification, and player and coach development.
Beginning in March 2014, the NPL will include an annual NPL Showcase to bring teams from NPLs across the country to one site for intra-league competition and player showcasing. The 2014 NPL Showcase will include U-16, U-17, and U-18 boys age groups and will take place at Heritage Park in suburban Las Vegas, Nev.
The targeted destination for all NPL teams, and the culminating event each season, is the NPL Finals (formerly known as the NPL Champions Cup), where NPL national champions are determined. The NPL Finals feature qualifiers in U-13 through U-18 boys and girls age groups from every NPL across the country in a true “champions league” competition.
What is the United States Soccer Development Academy
Developing the Next Generation U.S. Soccer’s Development Academy program is driven by the game and its players, coaches and referees. This game-centric approach allows for long-term development to occur through a deep understanding of what makes players successful around the world. As the sport of soccer grows in the United States, young players in our country need the proper environment to compete against the world’s elite. The U.S. Soccer Development Academy program provides the optimum developmental environment for the nation’s top youth soccer players, coaches and referees by emphasizing development through quality training and limited, meaningful competition.
Meaningful Training Academy teams spend a greater amount of time focused on training to improve as individuals and as a team. The teams and players receive direct feedback and evaluations from National Team Staff and ProZone video analysis. To round-out the complete training environment, Academy teams are tested in their physical capabilities using the SPARQ testing methodology and their hydration levels by Gatorade. They also receive a SPARQ training curriculum for soccer-specific athletic training and Nutrition and Hydration recommendations from Gatorade’s Sports Science Institute. Each athlete then gains a greater understanding of how they compare physically against their peers and what they need to do to achieve their optimal performance levels.
The Academy program features teams from the top youth clubs from around the country. Each Academy team plays approximately 30 regular season games to ensure all games are meaningful. Games are also played according to FIFA’s Laws of the Game and officiated by a pool of the nation’s top young referees in order to prepare players for the next level of competition. National Team Scouts regularly attend Academy games, so players are evaluated over the course of the season and in their natural positions allowing for better player assessment.
As the program enters its second year, it has already dramatically impacted the player development process in the United States. In 2008, more than 100 players from Academy clubs were included in U.S. Youth National Teams and almost 800 graduates from the inaugural Academy class participated in college soccer the following fall. Virtually all college programs use the Academy program as a scouting vehicle and the program has received increased attention from professional scouts representing domestic and international clubs. Visit ussoccer.com to view the top Academy teams in action.