Portland Thorns FC midfielder Allie Long's 10 goals and four assists this 2015 season earned her a spot in the NWSL's 2015 Best XI last week.
Long, however, was so busy preparing for her fiancé's birthday that she didn’t get the news until friends and family started blowing up her phone with texts of congratulations. Long’s Thorns FC teammate, Michelle Betos also made the Best XI as a goalkeeper.
“I was really honored,” she said. “Just to be a part of the girls that were named is an honor and it feels really good to be able to represent one of the Best XI in one of the best leagues in the world.”
Long played a crucial role in midfield for the Thorns this season, playing in all 20 regular season matches and providing critical goals for the team. Her two goals against the Chicago Red Stars in August gave the Thorns a come-from-behind victory in a must-win game that kept the team in the thick of the NWSL Playoff race.
“One goal just basically came to me; it was lucky – right place, right time sort of thing,” Long said of her first goal in that match. “The other one was really cool because I've been practicing longer range shots all season. I was staying after training, so scoring one from a spot that I was practicing felt good, especially in that type of game, a must-win game in front of all our fans. It was special.”
Remarkably, Long found so much offensive success this season in a bit of a new role in the midfield. Her 10 goals on the year was good for a tie for second in NWSL scoring and much of that came from Long’s ability to adapt.
“It helped me be more versatile and opened my eyes to being able to play another position and do it well,” said Long. “It was an easy transition and the girls on my team helped me a lot and made it easy for me as well, being surrounded by great players. I think it just made me more versatile.”
The secret to her success this season, Long says, is an offseason spent practicing and studying soccer. As PortlandThornsFC.com noted in May, Long spent this past offseason in Spain, training with her fiancé Jose Bautista’s club team, Brenes Balompie. There, Long learned to think quickly on the ball and developed an even more nuanced understanding of the tactics of the game.
Now, Long is more driven than ever to keep improving her game. Long says that this motivation for constant improvement stems from a competitive drive that extends from the card table to the practice field.
“I'm so competitive. I want to win. I want to do whatever it takes to win the game,” she said. “I want to win in practice. I want to win in playing cards. I'm so competitive. I guess that drives me on the field for sure.”
Despite the goals she scored this season and the accolades she's received, Long says that her offseason of hard work is only just beginning.
“I just want to continue to get better as a player: fitter, stronger, quicker. Work on my weaknesses. I feel like there's so much more that I can grow as a player and there's no limit to how good a player can get, so I just want to continue to grow and to be one of the best in the world and the best that I possibly can be.”
For now though, the NWSL Best XI is a good start.