She sat on the stands in the city gym in Queens, New York with no expectation to play. She had played a few spontaneous games with these guys before, but there was an invisible boundary placed between her and the regional futsal league once it was in play in the winter. This was no place for a girl. With prize money on the line, the intensity would be too much for a girl. Until one day, her fiancée’s team needed her. They needed Allie Long.
The team was playing in a final of a tournament when one of the players received a red card, and that’s when the calls from the fans watching began. “Blanquita! Blanquita! (little white girl)” In desperation the team asked her to play, and she was ready, with her indoor futsal shoes packed in her car nearby. She entered the gym only to find the referee, asking her if she was seriously wanting to play.
With two minutes left in the game, Long made a run towards goal, received a long pass down the line before unleashing a shot from a tight angle and scoring the winning goal.
Playing in men’s futsal leagues in cramped, high school gyms during winters in Queens has played as big a part as any in forming USA’s Allie Long into the tenacious defensive midfielder who has helped the Stars and Stripes win their first two matches at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016 without conceding a goal.
“I was so determined to do something different that no one else was doing,” Long said in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. “I wanted the challenge. Sometimes I’d get the ball and they’d back up two yards and I would tell them, ‘No, it’s OK you can play me like a guy, I don’t care’. I remember one guy elbowed me in the face and said, ‘Go play with dolls!’ It was that intense. I just laughed and that’s what my fiancé is always worried about.”
Just last winter she was playing futsal on a Friday night in one of these gyms, with people enjoying a pitcher of beer and standing a yard from the sideline, the ball would go out and hit the pitcher out of their hands. Families are there, enjoying Spanish food, while Spanish music fills the air. So what are the guys back in Queens saying now, watching Long feature at the Olympics for the national team?
If I know you’re a little intimidated, I like that. I feed off of it.
“I hope they say, ‘I can tell she plays with guys’,” Long said. “I got some tweets right after the France game, mentioning (Wendie) Renard and how she was shoving me when I was marking her. It was going both ways for sure. A lot of people were like, ‘Wow you held your own, I bet playing with those guys must’ve helped you’.”
Representing New York CityThe 28-year-old Long Island native, Long takes pride in representing New York with the way she plays.
“I want to dominate my area," Long said. "I want people to not want to go into tackles with me. There’s this vibe in New York, and I’ve owned that. It’s a tough, hard, won’t-take-nonsense-from-nobody attitude. I’ve always been like that. If I know you’re a little intimidated, I like that. I feed off of it."
The last time Long was playing on the world stage was at the U-20 Women’s Championships in Russia. Since then, she has endured injuries and setbacks in not getting called in to national teams when she felt she was ready, so what has carried her through to finally arrive at this moment?
“I’ve had faith," Long said. "I just have this faith and I would pray for this moment. I believed it was going to happen. I was training so hard. I’ve always believed the work you put in is going to pay off. I worked so ridiculously hard this off-season. I wouldn’t get called up and I wouldn’t get called up, and obviously as a human being, there were times when I thought, ‘Is this going to happen?’"
Doubters would tell Long making the Olympics would be impossible as the USA had just won the World Cup and they wouldn’t bring in new players or they only wanted young players. Long persevered and believed. As the USA prepare for the last group game against Colombia in Manaus, Long has her mind set on a greater goal.
“I want to inspire the next generation," Long said. "I want girls that didn’t make teams or got cut or not had the easiest path to just inspire them and make them believe in themselves and be a role model in that sense. I want to go to the next World Cup and the next Olympics. I want these next four years to be the best four years of my entire career.”