Transaction tracker: TFC signs veteran defender Kevin Long

In desperate need of defensive reinforcements, Toronto FC looked across the pond and plucked the Irishman from Birmingham City.

Transaction tracker: TFC signs veteran defender Kevin Long
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The transaction tracker at TFC Republic is a special feature where we will list all the roster additions and cuts, trades, signings and re-signings, and transfers made by Toronto FC, and examine what each move means for the club moving forward. 

It's a great way to keep tabs on what Toronto FC is doing and how it's building its roster, as we look at each transaction in a bit of detail. To view the full transaction tracker, click on the link below: 

Toronto FC transaction tracker
The transaction tracker at TFC Republic is a special feature where we will list all of the roster moves made by Toronto FC.

Feb. 20, 2024: Reds add Irish international Kevin Long 

Toronto FC acquires defender Kevin Long from Birmingham City of the EFL Championship. Terms of the transfer deal were not released. The Irish centre back has signed with TFC through 2024 with a 2025 option. He will occupy an international slot on the club's roster this coming season.

Quick analysis: In desperate need of defensive reinforcements, TFC looked across the pond and plucked Kevin Long from Birmingham City before their 2024 MLS season opener this weekend. 

Toronto conceded 59 times during the 2023 MLS campaign and had the second worst defensive record in the league. Incredibly, TFC conceded 17 consecutive times (a club record) in all competitions from June 24 to August 26. 

Before that TFC coughed up a franchise-high 66 goals in each of their previous two seasons, so defending has been a longstanding issue for the Reds.

The hope is that Long, 33, can strengthen a back line that has leaked goals at a steady pace over the last three years. 

Long has one goal and four assists in 40 appearances at Birmingham since joining the team last January on a free transfer. He was a key player in helping the Blues avoid relegation last season, but he fell out of favour under coach Wayne Rooney and dealt with injuries as he floated in and out of the matchday roster under new bench boss Tony Mowbray since his appointment last month. Long didn't dress in Birmingham's 2-1 win over Sunderland on the weekend. 

Before joining Birmingham, Long spent 13 years with Burnley where he featured in both the Championship and the Premier League. He also had loan stints with a number of English clubs, including Portsmouth and Barnsley. He made his pro debut in 2009 with Irish club Cork City where he came up through the youth ranks. 

Long also has some international experience under his belt, having earned 17 caps for the Republic of Ireland since making his debut in 2017. His last game for Ireland came in a 0-0 UEFA Nations League draw vs. Bulgaria on Nov. 18, 2020. 

Although primarily a central defender, Long has also been deployed as a fullback, so he can offer TFC some much needed positional versatility.  

On the surface, Long should immediately step into TFC's starting 11 and give the defence some stability. The Reds' current crop of centre backs includes Shane O'Neill (limited to 14 MLS appearances last season due to injury), Aimé Mabika and Sigurd Rosted (both wildly inconsistent in 2023) and Luke Singh (sent out on loan to the CPL in each of the last two seasons). 

Herdman has high hopes for TFC’s Marshall-Rutty in 2024
Toronto FC’s new coach sees great potential in the youth academy graduate. But it’s going to take a bit more time, he cautioned.

What TFC badly needed this off-season was to add someone like Drew Moor, a defender whose signing prior to the 2016 MLS season transformed the Reds into an MLS contender and who helped the team's back line become a solid defensive unit. At first glance, Long doesn't appear to be that guy, but he should help Toronto improve its overall defending.

It'll be interesting to see how things pan out for Long in Toronto. Can he adapt to life in MLS and can help bring down TFC's goals against total? Time will tell. 

"We are very happy to add a player of Kevin's pedigree and experience to our backline this season,” Toronto GM Jason Hernandez said in a media release.

“During his time in the UK, Kevin has demonstrated an ability to perform in some very difficult leagues, and he will provide us with the leadership necessary to reinforce our central defence. We are excited to add not only a quality player but a quality character to our group."

Coach John Herdman added: "Kevin's experience will be a welcome addition to TFC’s back line. He's here to help rebuild the club and is hungry for success."

Long is only the second Ireland international to play for TFC and the first since fellow central defender Darren O’Dea featured for the Reds from 2012 to 2013. Irish midfielder Ronnie O'Brien also played for Toronto during its 2007 expansion season. 

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