After winning silverware, Morris seeking more Crew success in 2021
December 30, 2020
THE 2020 CALENDAR year was challenging for many in the soccer community with a global pandemic forcing leagues to pause and, once active, schedules to be condensed. Positive tests and the need for rest forced teams to dig deeply into depth to get through.
The result, however, was revealing in a positive way. While 2019 was a breakthrough year in terms of getting young players on the field in MLS, 2020 proved that young players could help teams achieve substantial results on the field. Mark Mckenzie and Brenden Aaronson led Philadelphia to the Supporters Shield. Daryl Dike helped Orlando to its first playoff berth. Cole Bassett and Sam Vines were huge assets to Colorado. Jeremy Ebobisse and Eryk Williams were instrumental to Portland’s success at MLS is Back. Ayo Akinola was key for Toronto’s continued success.
While Aidan Morris, 19, was a promising defensive midfielder who played well in limited occasions with Columbus and was talked about favorably in the January after the only U.S. U-20 camp of the cycle, he was not among the players who were playing important roles in winning efforts on a consistent basis. But in the final game of the season, at MLS Cup, he was able to help deliver his team the league’s ultimate trophy – becoming the youngest player in league history to start and win the game.
“It is different than playing game against New York City halfway through the season,” Morris told ASN. “It is playing in an MLS Cup final, at home, being my third start, and me being 19. It, of course, comes with a little bit more weight to it. But it's still me doing what I love. Just playing with the guys that I love playing with. Playing for the City of Columbus. That's the coolest part of it.”
The situation unfolded when Darlington Nagbe tested positive for COVID-19 just days before the game against the defending champions, the Seattle Sounders. Then, as 2020 has done throughout the year, it forced clubs to adapt. Crew manager Caleb Porter decided to start young homegrown teenager Aiden Morris at defensive midfield in place of Nagbe, who was one of the league’s best midfielders – and a mentor to Morris.
“It was unfortunate about Darlington - especially being one of our key players on our team,” Morris said. “Darlington did a great job helping me throughout the whole year - - always keeping me prepared, always telling me parts of my game to work on. He gave me the first news letting me know he caught COVID and told me to be ready. I showed up the next day and just practiced the best I could. Afterward they announced it. There's a lot of excitement, but it was kind of bittersweet as well - knowing we'd be without one of our best players and I would need to step up to the occasion. I was ready for a challenge… Although it it's kind of close to the game time, there's obviously always going to be some nerves that come with it. I would say they're kind of short run up to it helped in a way.”
In helping to control the midfield against elite midfielders such as Nicholas Lodeiro, Morris turned in a fantastic performance as Columbus came away with a 3-0 win behind two goals and an assist from Lucas Zelarayan.
Aiden Morris: raw # for Columbus in 3-0 win over Seattle in #MLSCup— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) December 13, 2020
24/32 passing (75%)
3/5 accurate long balls
5 duels won (3 lost)
1 aerial won
- impressive outing for the U.S. U-20 d-mid who wins silverware pic.twitter.com/M44vHWeTtY
While it was an extremely important game, it was just one outing for Morris – who finished 2020 with three starts and 11 total appearances for Columbus. To further his development, he will have to find ways to see the field regular basis. Of course, that will be harder as the pandemic will eventually subside and Nagbe and Artur will likely resume their starting roles.
But Morris is in a good situation in that he helped his case in earning the trust of his manager. He has shown he can deliver in big games. How he forces his way onto the field consistently to earn 1500-2000 minutes is another question. But Porter’s words on Morris were strong.
“I believe in young players, if they are good enough,” Porter said following MLS Cup. “If a guy is good enough, I’m going to give him the chance. But if he’s not, I’m not. I’m not a lover of playing young guys just to do it, but Aidan Morris is a winner, he’s a fighter. I knew it. I knew it in the games I played him and I’ve seen him in training. When I knew Darlington was out, he was the guy that was going to go in.”
Heading into 2021, Morris remains ambitious and he wants to join the ranks of the growing number of impressive young Americans in the league. He has already made a big statement but next year he wants that to continue.
Unfortunately, he was dealt a major opportunity with the cancellation of the 2021 U-20 World Cup. Morris was impressive in January and was likely going to start in the No. 6 position for qualifying and possibly compete with Internacional’s Johnny Cardoso for the starting spot at the World Cup.
Fortunately, Morris still has youth national team eligibility ahead of him. He could attempt to play up a cycle with the U.S. U-23 team in 2021 although he’d be competing with older and more experienced players for the role. He is also eligible for the 2024 U-23 team as well where he’d be in the oldest eligible birth-year.
At the club level, Morris remains equally ambitions. A native of Ft. Lauderdale, Morris was scouted by the Crew to join the club’s academy at 15 years old. He left home and lived with a host family for the opportunity because he fell in love with the Crew’s way of operating. After spending one season at Indiana University, he returned to Columbus on a homegrown deal to start his pro career.
“I just got scouted by the old academy director,” Morris recalled. “He brought me in here and I he fell in love with the kind of a tradition, the family, and the system of play that the Columbus Crew portrayed. It was a no brainer to me at the time.”
The teenagers and young players in MLS remain tight and the success Tyler Adams, Jack Harrison, and Alphonso Davies followed by the recent success of Aaronson and McKenzie is not lost on Morris. Like those players, Morris holds ambitions in Europe and prior to signing for Columbus, he spent time training with Bundesliga club Augsburg.
“I would say for most teenagers in MLS, their goal and their dream as a little kid is to play in Europe,” Morris explained. “That's mine as well. But [Augsburg] was just an option at the time - just getting my name out there. It just an experience to see what it is like to play in Europe - to be around the culture they had there, to open my eyes to see what I need to do to get there.”
Eventually he wants to make the move but for now, he will have to continue to deliver for Columbus. Most players like McKenzie, Adams, Aaronson earned silverware in MLS before moving abroad but that came at the end of a long path. Morris is working in reverse order as he has the silverware at the start of his journey. He’s already set a high bar but that will make him one to follow as the league takes a younger approach.
“I'm always competing to be in the starting lineup,” Morris said. “I always try to go out there to prepare the best for every training session, every game, show myself the best of times. It's a dream of mine to be a starter for the Columbus Crew on a regular basis, but that is a day-by-day thing. [During this season], I was learning things all along the way - I was making mistakes and learning from them on the field and also just growing as a man. I have amazing players all around me. Just the veterans and everyone were always teaching me. It was an accumulation of things that happen throughout the year that kind of prepared me for that moment.”