Photography by Tony Quinn (ISIPhotos.com)
Like many fans of the beautiful game, Allie Long was thrilled to watch Spain win the World Cup this summer. But next June, Long aims to be more than just a spectator. The 23-year-old Long Island native is on track to represent the U.S. in the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany. It'll just be the latest achievement in a burgeoning career that includes a national championship at UNC and a current starting role in the midfield of the Washington Freedom of the Women's Professional Soccer league. With just three games to go before the playoffs, the Freedom face a crucial match this Saturday against Sky Blue FC, last season's inaugural champs. Fresh off her first practice with the national team, Allie chatted with us about matching up against Marta, why Americans should watch more soccer, and her favorite men's player...
Interview by Jaeki Cho
Complex: How did you get into soccer?
Allie Long: I actually started playing when I was like 4 or 5 in a co-ed league with boys, and I haven't stopped playing since then. My mom plays too, so she wanted me to play. And I was pretty good, so I kept playing.
Complex: All the way through college.
Allie Long: Yeah, I played for the University of North Carolina, and I won a national championship there. I was at Penn State for two years, and I was at UNC from '08 to '09. So I won the national championship in my senior year.
Complex: That must have been crazy.
Allie Long: That was one of my best memories. We were down one nothing---they scored in the first 16 seconds. And I was like crying, but we ended up coming back winning 2-1. It was just the best moment of my life.
Complex: And how did you get down with your current team, the Washington Freedom?
Allie Long: They won the draft pick in the first round, and I was the seventh pick.
Complex: Were there other teams you preferred?
Allie Long: Honestly, I just wanted to stay in the East Coast since I'm from the East Coast.
Complex: So, although a club like California's FC Gold Pride has a stronger reputation, you wouldn't have gone because it's out West?
Allie Long: I mean, if I got there I would've went, and would've been happy about it. But, truthfully, I wanted to stay closer to home.
Complex: Speaking of FC Gold Pride, who are currently in first place: They have Marta, who is probably the best women's player in the world. What's it like to play against her?
Allie Long: I think Marta is the most skilled player right now, and she's an amazing player. With Marta, you have to be smart, and you have to be ready for anything, because the second she catches you off guard is when she makes her move. I try not to even think about who she is before I play against her. Because if I start to treat her like, "she's this, she's that," then it starts getting too much. I respect her for who she is, but go against her like you're the best defender in the world. And you have to have the right attitude or she'll destroy you. She's just quick, and so strong, she can shoot, she can do everything. She's basically like a dude when she plays. I know her strength and respect her, but I would defend her just as anybody else. I'll give it my all.
Complex: Did you watch some World Cup games this summer?
Allie Long: Of course! I think I watched like every single game. I'm actually really sad that it's over.
Complex: I feel you. Who were you rooting for?
Allie Long: I'm a FC Barcelona fan, and most of the players on Barcelona were on the Spain team.
Complex: You must have been thrilled that they won.
Allie Long: Everyone was telling me that it wasn't going to happen, but I was like, "You'll see." I was really surprised that Brazil lost.
Complex: I was disappointed with that as well.
Allie Long: Yeah, I was angry. I still thought they played pretty well, but nothing like I've seen them play. I think they definitely stopped themselves short by not taking everyone. I was really disappointed instead of always being impressed.
Complex: What about the U.S. team? Were you sad that they got knocked out?
Allie Long: Surprisingly, I did. I don't really watch U.S. soccer like I follow Barcelona or EPL, but when they were in there, I surprised myself how much I cared, and how much I was passionate about it. I was really bummed out when they lost. I really thought that they had it.
Complex: Did you see the Ghana game against Uruguay?
Allie Long: Oh my God. That was insane. Forlan is probably one of my favorite players. And the handball that SuÃ¡rez did was so smart. I would've never thought of that. Even though people complained.
Complex: Now, you trained with the national team recently for the first time. How was that?
Allie Long: It was really good. Things that I never thought about working on, I realized I should work on. I had a lot of fun playing against the greatest players in our country.
Complex: Any rivalries?
Allie Long: We all get along. We actually get along better than anyone would think because we have to be friends to win in the World Cup. There can't be any animosity.
Complex: Did you meet some of the players that you grew up watching?
Allie Long: Yeah, it was weird. I never thought that I would be playing with Kristine Lilly. I grew up watching her, Mia [Hamm], Michelle Akers, and [Julie] Foudy. Regardless, I was hurt so I couldn't train. I was really upset about that. But being in the environment was motivating.
Complex: What's the plan for the upcoming 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup?
Allie Long: We want to win it and play the best soccer we can. I think Pia Sundhage is an amazing coach. She really stresses on playing well together. We're taking on a more offensive approach. Attacking, going forward, and what can you do to score.
Complex: As you know, soccer isn't as popular as other sports in America. Can you give me some reasons why you think people should watch soccer?
Allie Long: I think people usually complain about soccer because it's long, and don't give us much credit because it's such a low-scoring game. But the hard thing in soccer is to score, and it takes a lot of work that people don't even realize. It could be so technical. Look at Ronaldinho! It also requires tremendous amount of determination. For instance, in the Ghana and Uruguay game, Asamoah Gyan misses the PK, which leads to overtime. A single goal matters so much, it's ridiculous. Whereas, two points you can think, "Oh, they can get it back."
Complex: Why do you think soccer is so big in other parts of the world, but not in America?
Allie Long: When we grew up, I remember my dad watching football on Sundays, not soccer. You know? Over there, they grew up on some soccer-for-life attitude. So that's why it's so ridiculously important to them. I think here, it takes an early age to have that passion. My mom played, so it inspired me, but my dad played rugby. I think it's different cultures, and different ways people see things. And how you're raised too.
Complex: What about the visual aspect? Compared to other sports with many stoppages, soccer is a continuous sport.
Allie Long: I think it takes a lot of fitness, endurance, and strength for soccer players to get an edge. We have to be able to last for 90 minutes. There's so many little things that people have to take into account. While other sports like baseball? Really? How much do you sweat in that game? You just hit it, and I know one time you run around, but I just feel like people don't realize how much hard work it takes to be able to play soccer and win. Just because it's not exciting, because there aren't 50 shots a game, there's maybe three shots, or maybe just one or zero. But to be that technical, and to play with your feet, it's one of the hardest things ever. Everything that other athletes go through, we feel it too, but we get it 10 times more because that one goal matters so much.
Complex: With the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup coming up in Germany next year, can you give us reasons why people should watch women's soccer?
Allie Long: I think it's an up-and-coming sport, and we need support. It's fun, and it's a great thing to get children involved in, and we're the role models of young kids now. We need to do a better job, but at the same time, I just think it should be advertised better. Hopefully, it'll be different with the World Cup next year. I think it's a good way for the country to come together, regardless if you love soccer or not.
Complex: Now that you're a professional soccer player in America, are you satisfied with what you have right now?
Allie Long: Yeah, but I want to be the best. Of course I'm happy, but I won't be satisfied without fully acquiring things I want to accomplish.
Complex: Cool. By the way, Thierry Henry just started playing for the New York Red Bulls. Are you excited about that?
Allie Long: Yeah, well, I'm excited how he'll make the team better. I think having international players make it more... not exciting, but more competitive. I think they can bring in great character, and Red Bull [Arena] is close to home, so I hope they do well.
Complex: Speaking of that, who's your favorite male player?
Allie Long: Andre Iniesta. I'm not just saying that because he scored the winning goal in the World Cup. I love him. He's ridiculous. He's tricky, and he doesn't lose the ball. I love how he plays. Oh, and I also love Kaka. Those two are my favorites.