Allie Long: “Since I can remember, anyone said I couldn’t do something, I’m going to show you that I can. If a team is going to beat me, no I’m going to beat you.” (Michael Chow — USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

PARIS — At halftime of a game against a California team at the Surf Cup in San Diego some 15 years ago, the third-ranked Albertson Express Under-17 team found itself playing nowhere near its potential. Head coach Adrian Gaitan was not a happy camper despite trailing the No. 1 team in the nation.

So, he picked out two of his two best players and laced into them — Christina DiMartino and Allie Long, who also were members of the U.S. U-18 national team.

“We just had a really, really strong team,” Gaitan said. “There must have been 200, 250 college coaches there. I got them at halftime, and I went crazy.”

Gaitan recalled that his tirade went something like this:

“You two, let me tell you about you two. You two think you should be on the national team? Let me tell you something, you’re an embarrassment to the national team, to us, to everybody. It was pathetic, your performance in the first half.”

Well, both players went out and helped turn the game on its end. DiMartino tallied twice and Long added a third goal in what ended up as a 3-1 victory. With five minutes remaining in the game, Gaitan decided to pull both players because the match had become chippy.

“As they walked by me,” Gaitan said. “I put my hand out, and I’m like, ‘Good job.’ And Allie says to me: ‘Was it good enough for you, asshole?” She kept walking. Jesus Christ. I just looked at her. She was so mad at me because I really got into her in front of a lot of college coaches.”

Gaitan then laughed.

“She made that comment and I didn’t say anything,” he added. “I’m like, ‘This is perfect. this is perfect.’ She was this type of kid. Christina wouldn’t say anything, but Allie would be like, ‘Ha, ha, was that good enough for you? Take that.’ It was really, really funny. We were joking around about it a couple of days ago.”

An yes, they are still friends still after all these years.

Moreover, that one remark after a stellar performance defined the spirit and desire of the Northport, N.Y. native.

“It wasn’t the easiest thing to play for me because I was extremely tough, not just on her, but on everybody,” Gaitan said in a recent interview. “She dealt with it. She had a great attitude. She took a lot of my crap and she just kept on going and going and going. So, I wasn’t surprised to see her where she is right now.”

That would be with the U.S. national team at the Women’s World Cup here in France.

In fact, Long credited Gaitan for playing a major role in her development as a player.

“I had a very, very good coach, one of the best I ever had,” she said. “His training sessions were excellent.

“He’s not quiet on the sidelines. He’s yelling at you. He’s hard on you. I feel like that has prepared me. At this age now, when we’re doing video sessions and you’re getting called out, you did something wrong, you need to be able to handle that and get better from it. I feel like that’s not always the case in professional teams in our age. You should be ok with criticism. It’s almost like some people can’t handle it. … I am blind to it because I think that Adrian was such a good balance of hard but teaching me. He held me at such a high standard that he helped at so much.”

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Allie Long lives the moment during training at Parc des Princes Stadium. (Michael Chow – USA TODAY Sports)

No surprises at all

That Long has made it this far hasn’t surprised any of her former coaches.

Paul Riley, who guided the North Carolina Courage to the National Women’s Soccer League crown in two of the past three years, coached the 31-year-old Long when he was running the show with the Portland Thorns.

Besides Long’s abilities as a player, Riley has been impressed with her soccer mind and IQ.

“She is one of the most incredible minds I’ve ever coached,” said Riley, who is also the director of football at the Albertson Soccer Club.

Riley then explained why.

“Very unusual soccer player in America. She watches the game, studies the game,” he said. “She has her own opinion. She wants the game to be played a certain way. She’s almost a professor of the game. It’s almost unusual for an American player to be like that. but that’s the way she is. She loves great football. She wants to play great football. Sometimes for her, the result is not important, but the way you play or the way your team plays.”

“I think the world of her as a player. I think she knows that. But I think she’s a completely different level what she does tactically from most of the players on the national team. She plays with men in the offseason. She watches men’s game. She watches women’s game and she watches youth games and you name it games, South American games, English games, Italian, Spain. That’s huge for a player’s learning curve. She’s done a lot of great things in her career to put her where she is today. I’m really proud that she’s made it because sometimes these type of players get overlooked.”

How it all began

Born on Aug. 13, 1987, Alexandra Linsley Long comes from an athletic family. Her father Jamie played rubgy, her mother Barbara still plays soccer in a co-ed league these days, “which is kind of funny,” Long said. She got her start in the sport at the age of four, when her grandfather brought a flyer to her parents’ house to sign up for co-ed soccer at the Huntington Boys Club.

“I just fell in love with the game,” she said. “Ever since then I have been playing non-stop.”

And usually winning non-stop. As the fulcrum of a dominant Northport High School team that finished unbeaten during the regular season all her four years, Long was named the Newsday Player of the year in her junior and senior years while earning All-Suffolk County honors four years straight.

By then, Long’s love affair with the sport had blossomed as had her drive, which was strong to begin with.

“I think just the competitiveness of it,” she said. “Since I can remember, anyone said I couldn’t do something, I’m going to show you that I can. If a team is going to beat me, no I’m going to beat you. It’s always been about the competition side and the battle of it. I’ve always enjoyed it.”

During a youth soccer clinic she held in 2016, Long talked about her drive, “that I am relentless and that I am so unbelievably persistent.”

“My dad says that when I was younger, I could not take no for an answer even though I was one,” she added. “I didn’t know what no meant, he was telling last night at Christmas. “I believed in myself and I worked for it and I achieved it. I think that didn’t pay attention to my circumstances at all. I just kept going what was in my heart. I have an unbelievable hunger and drive. I feel that whatever I set my mind to I am able to accomplish. That’s what I want to instill in the youth.”

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Training really never ends for Allie Long. (Michael Chow – USA TODAY Sports)

Long’s father helped plant that drive, even though he didn’t know much about soccer.

“I remember being 10 and him going, ‘Go out there and show them who you are,’ just instilling this competitive fire in me. I’m just competitive. I love the game. I love to win. I definitely don’t like to lose.”

Long started her club career with the Northport/Cow Harbor Soccer Club, performing for the Mustangs, before switching to the Oceanside Express, which eventually moved over to Albertson. The Express captured five consecutive State Cups in the Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association, but never got past the Region I tournament.

“We never won regionals, which was crazy because we were always the better team,” Long said. “Something would happen. We would just need a tie. We just needed a win or score two goals. Something always happened. We were always so good that we could have won.

“My team was really, really good. I think my starting team was in the NWSL, which is pretty rare for a club team to have. That’s pretty incredible.”

Including Long, the Express boasted five talented teenagers who went onto play professionally in Women’s Professional Soccer and the National Women’s Soccer League — goalkeeper Michelle Betos (Reign FC), defenders Brittany Taylor (FC Kansas City) and defender Alex Singer (Washington Spirit) and midfielder DiMartino (Philadelphia Independence).

By then Long had discovered the U.S. national team and like many women of her generation, she remembered where she was when the Americans won the 1999 world championship. She was in the Hamptons working as a junior life guard. She was with her mom, grandfather, aunt and cousins, watching on TV.

“I can’t remember the bits and pieces of it, but I remember the feelings of it,” she said. “It was intense. I was so excited. Obviously, I remember the penalty shootout.”

Long decided to attend Penn State University. After two years, Long felt it was time to move on and transferred to the University of North Carolina, which has produced an endless list NCAA Division champions and become an outlet for many players to take a giant step to the national team under legendary head coach Anson Dorrance.

“As I got older, the competitiveness increased,” Long said. “UNC was only going to enhance it. Anson did such a good job to that. Knowing that you can add something to your game. There are so many things that you can add to become the best player you can be.”

Long was a member of the Tar Heels’ 2008 Division I championship before turning pro. In the now-defunct Women’s Professional Soccer, she performed with the Washington Freedom and Sky Blue FC before venturing to France to toil for Paris Saint-Germain. She returned to the states to play for the New York Fury (Women’s Premier Soccer League. When women’s professional soccer returned for a third try in the U.S., Long signed on with Portland Thorns FC before she was traded to Reign FC in Seattle for this National Women’s soccer League season. Long was an NWSL all-star and an MVP finalist with Portland.

Another love

Long just might have the best of both worlds. Not only does she love the beautiful game, but she has a husband who has played it and can act as her personal coach — former U.S. youth international Jose Batista, who starred at Molloy College on Long Island. A Queens, N.Y. native, Bati, as he is nicknamed, was the 2009 East Coast Conference player of the year and played with Sevilla (Puerto Rico) in the United Soccer League.

When they were married in October 2016, instead of going on a honeymoon, say, to the Caribbean or Hawaii, they went on what Long called an “insane honeymoon trip” to Spain that included a Barcelona game and training session and a UEFA Champions League match.

“It was a dream honeymoon for soccer players,” said Batista, who added that the couple found practice time. “That’s one of the things that brings us together — soccer. It’s our life. It’s what we love to do.”

On the soccer pitch, they are a perfect match.

“She’s a versatile player. She can play anywhere in the middle, which is awesome,” Batista said. “She is more of a complete defensive midfielder. I play attacking mid, so I try to help her as much as I can. So, when we train in the offseason, she gets comfortable in her defensive role. I tend to put her high on the field and I try to instruct her what to do and not to do on the attacking goal.”

Without asking her a question after a game, you can tell whether Long’s team has won or lost by noticing her eating habits. If she is either birthday cake or ice cream, there is a good chance that her side had lost.

“That’s her favorite,” Batista said. “After a loss, it’s get her something she likes. … Even if we’re playing a futsal [indoor] game and we’re down a player, we’re pissed if we lose.”

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Allie Long gets a big hug from her husband Jose Batista after the U.S.’s 2-0 win over Sweden in Le Havre. (Michael Chow – USA TODAY Sports)

As it turns out, futsal is where Long and Batista met several years ago and where she got one of her nicknames, “Gringo.”

“I appreciate him so much,” she said. “He’s half Brazilians and half Colombian, so it’s just in his blood.

“When I first met him, he was playing in these leagues and the way that he plays the game and sees the game, i was like how were not on the Brazilian national team. I think he’s so good. So the way he thinks and sees the game, I’m always asking for his advice.”

Especially in the offseason, when players could skip training and become soft.

“He’s saying you need to work on this and I’m like, ‘I can do that.’ And he’s like, ‘No, no you need to be doing this consistently. This is going to make you better. You have to do it.’ So, it’s kind of like the one that will analyze my game in a sense, but not too much. I’m like the one who’s starting the fight if we do fight, about things because it’s no, I’m fine or I’m frustrated. I can’t do it.

“He’s just been there and been such an amazing person to me to help me grow as a player and also to be there when things didn’t go my way or when I’m crying and he’s not a baby and I think I’m a baby.”

For the past several years in the NWSL offseason, Long and Batista have played in futsal (indoor) five nights a week in Brentwood, Uniondale and Queens to stoke that competitive spirit and keep in shape.

Those were “underground” or unsanctioned leagues in which championship teams would win money.

Originally, Batista was against Long playing against men, but his team had a player red-carded and needed a player for other matches. Long just so happened to have her soccer gear in the car and played as a regular, more than holding her own as the lone woman.

Given Long’s high soccer IQ, Riley indicated that the veteran midfielder could coach someday.

Long? She’s not so sure. She felt he has plenty of gas left in the tank as a player and she has plenty of more time to decide.

“It depends,” she said. “I admire coaches like Pep Guardiola [Manchester City] and I see what he can do. There is so much to learn. I’m so competitive. I will have to learn how to lose nicely. There’s a lot of things that I have to learn. It could be something potentially that I want to get into it. But I love to be able to impact the youth and the next generation of footballers. That’s what I really enjoy right now. But yeah, coaching potentially could be …”

Long then laughed.

For now, it’s all about playing the game and winning a world championship.

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The World Cup

Long was one of the last cuts for the 2015 World Cup.

“As soon as I walked out of my meeting with Jill [Ellis, head coach], when she told me that she was going to take experience over me, that it wasn’t going to be my first World Cup. I had a flight back from LA to New York and I cried the whole flight. It was so embarrassing. I didn’t want anyone to see me. I was looking out the window crying. The second those words came out of her mouth, I was like, I’ll never feel this again.”

She was named to the 2016 squad for the Rio Olympics, but not reaching the medal round — the USA was eliminated in the quarterfinals by Sweden — left an empty hole in Long’s soccer heart and a hunger in her belly.

Injuries slowed her down in 2018 entering into this year, limiting Long’s time with the national team. But Ellis, realizing the veteran midfielder’s experience and abilities did not forget Long.

“My conversations with her were always that I was always in the mix,” Long said. “She was looking at me. She said that ‘I know what your best is.’ But at the same time, not being in camp is a risk of losing my spot at any point because everyone is so good. But she also made it clear to me that she was looking at other players, that she knew what she had in me, she knew my best. So, I felt like I wasn’t necessarily in. The uncertainty never feels comfortable, but it always pushes me. That’s when I’m at my best, when it’s uncertain. That brings out the best in me, when my back’s against the wall. I don’t shy away from adversity.”

Long said she got a call from Ellis either April 23 or 24 with some good news. She cried again, but this time there were tears of joy.

“I cried and I was just so happy and really thankful for the opportunity,” she said. “It’s a dream of mine since I can remember. I was injured pretty much from August, that whole last year like to January, February. I didn’t really know what was going to happen. But I’m just thankful that it worked out.

“Well, I feel like it’s not been the easiest path, but that it makes it so much more special because I feel like that I truly earned it. There’s been dips and no easy way. And that’s what make it more meaningful to me. So, it’s been great and tough, but so rewarding at the same time.”

Her international experience worked against Long in 2015. Four years later, it was in her favor, including that Olympic stint. She has represented the USA 46 times, scoring six goals.

“You can’t teach moments in a world tournament,” she said. “You can’t replicate games like it was in the Olympics, feeling like you lose and your out. No friendly prepared you for that.”

Long and Crystal Dunn not only represent Long Island on the national side, but the Albertson Soccer Club as well.

“I feel like I’m so proud to rep Long Island, that it shaped me who I am as a player today,” she said. “Anytime I met people from out of state or I played with or against, they always kind of feared people from New York. I always used that to my advantage and always had a chip on my shoulder. And I still do. New York people we don’t take any crap from anybody. We’re hard.”

Just being the best player she can be has been Long’s playing credo for a long time.

“The strive for completeness has been my focus the last couple of years,” she said. “Most importantly, being about to, I’m trying to work on everything where I can be a good passer, a good defender. I can be good in the air. I can be a good tackler. It takes a while to get better, but just that drive of wanting to be the most complete player and best player I can possibly be has been little a driving force in the game. Just like the goal of making this team has been probably the main driving force and that’s just always been a goal of mine, to be on the world stage, be at a World Cup. That’s every girls’ dream that is on this team right now.”

Winning a world championship would top it off.