Tan Long Attempts To Fulfill Football Dreams In North America
The past several years has seen an influx of footballers from East Asia gracing the pitches of European leagues. From England’s Premier League to Germany’s Bundesliga, East Asian footballers have been impressing fans with their performances which have led some clubs to success.
One of the most well-known footballers from the region is former South Korean international Park Ji-sung who started his European tour with Dutch powerhouse PSV Eindhoven. After winning a few titles with the Dutch side, he made a historic move to English Premier League side Manchester United. A few Premier League titles and a UEFA Champions League trophy later, he is recognized as the most decorated player from the Asian continent.
Now at Queen’s Park Rangers in London, the 31-year-old is not only the captain, but also a highly respected player amongst his peers.
The performances of Park, Lee Young-pyo and a host of players currently with European clubs has proven that players from the Asian continent are just as capable of contributing to the success of their respective teams on the pitch than just being a marketing tool off it.
However, when looking at the number of players heading abroad, one group that is missing are Chinese footballers. Since the national team’s only appearance at the 2002 World Cup, only a handful of players from the country have made the move abroad to challenge themselves in other leagues.
Fan Zhiyi, Sun Jihai, Shao Jiayi, Li Tie and Yang Chen are just a few who have tried their luck outside of China with various levels of success. However, since Shao’s return to Chinese Super League side Beijing Guoan this season there has not been much activity.
Chen Zhizhao’s move to Brazilian side Corinthians made news throughout China, but he has played sparingly for the club during his loan spell.
Then there is the story of Tan Long (谭龙). The Dalian native has taken a route that no other footballer in the country has attempted. He has taken his talents to Major League Soccer (MLS) in the United States.
In a league that features world-renowned players such as Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane, Tim Cahill and former England captain David Beckham, Tan has flown under the radar as he tries to make an impact in the fledgling league.
Currently at Eastern Conference side DC United, Tan is the first Chinese-born footballer to play in America’s top league. Despite this achievement, Tan downplays it. “I don’t think I’ve made history. I’ve never thought about creating history, but just playing football well,” Tan told China Sports Review.
Relocating to the United States after a stint with Chinese Yi League side Shanghai Pudong Zobon FC, Long started his football odyssey in the country in the USL Premier Development League with the Atlanta Blackhawks, scoring seven goals in 12 matches.
That success earned him a move up to the North American Soccer League (the second division) as he signed with FC Tampa Bay (now the Tampa Bay Rowdies) in 2010. After 25 appearances with the Florida based club, the 24-year-old made the move to North America’s top league (MLS) when he signed a contract with expansion Canadian side the Vancouver Whitecaps on March 11, 2011.
For Long, reaching America’s top flight in such a rapid time was like a dream. “I experienced some unforgettable things when I was in Canada. It’s my first time to play football in America’s top football league by which I learned many things and experienced some things I will never forget,” he said.
On March 26 he would go on to make history by becoming the first Chinese-born player to set foot on the pitch for an MLS club when he came on as a substitute in the Whitecaps 1-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union. He would make further history on October 12 when he scored his first goal against his current club in a 2-1 win.
When talking about that goal, Tan again showed his modesty. “I was very happy when I scored the goal. I didn’t really think about making history. I was just very excited to help my team win the match,” he said.
However, things did not pan out well later on for the ambitious striker as he played sporadically for the Whitecaps, only making a handful of substitute appearances. The frustration of not playing, let alone not starting, led to him venting his frustrations on Twitter.
“What do you want? I do not understand!” he tweeted, an apparent shot at Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie.
“At the very beginning, I was very confident when I was in Vancouver. I hoped to help the team win as many matches as possible. But I wasn’t given many opportunities because the coach didn’t trust me,” Tan said. “As a young player, I said something on Twitter which I don’t regret. Now I want to improve my ability.”
Tan’s rant did not go down well with Rennie and Vancouver’s front office and he was suspended indefinitely by the club.
With his career in Canada in limbo, the Whitecaps traded Tan to DC United on June 28 this year.
Making a fresh start with a new club, Tan opened his account for the four-time MLS champions in a 4-2 win over the Chicago Fire in August.
With DC United recently qualifying for the league’s playoff stage which starts in early November, Tan now has his sights set on only one goal that he has yet to accomplish in his young career in MLS. ” I want to become the first Chinese player to win the MLS Cup,” he said.
DC Sports Box
- Whitecaps FC – Tan’s first goal lifts ‘Caps off bottom of league table
- CBC Sports – Whitecaps striker moved after complaining on Twitter
- SportsNet – Tan Shows Promise
- Wild East Football – Tan Long: My first season in the MLS