The Columbus Crew doesn’t have a lot of positives to take from the recent stretch of matches. The Black & Gold were able to obtain just one out of nine possible points in the last three games. But if something got a smile from Crew fans, it was certainly the way rookie midfielder Aidan Morris performed.
The 18-year-old Homegrown player was on the field for 151 minutes in the last three matches and made his first start in a Black & Gold uniform and, despite the team’s frustrating performances, was one of the few players in the team to raise their stocks recently.
“It’s been awesome to go out there and have the opportunity of play,” Morris reflected this week. “It’s been a while since I’d last played a game and started one. Everyone on the staff just told me to be ready for an opportunity and I was kind of in that mindset. In reality, you have to be ready for whenever your name is called.”
Morris’ insertion in the team was gradual and he responded well to the challenge, consistently improving as he earned more playing time under head coach Caleb Porter. His recent run of form has probably moved him from being arguably the fifth pick in the coach’s pecking order for the center midfield position to a viable option moving forward.
At the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando, the central midfielder was limited to 36 minutes coming off the bench in matches in which the result was virtually secured for the Crew. Over the last few weeks, injuries started taking players like Darlington Nagbe and Fatai Alashe down, and after 10 matches as an unused sub, the United States Youth international reappeared in the final 28 minutes of the Crew’s match against Toronto FC, replacing fellow Homegrown player Sebastian Berhalter.
His play on that occasion was good enough to get him off the bench earlier in the following match when he came in as a halftime substitute for the injured Lucas Zelarayan. In the next game, when the Argentinean was out, Porter didn’t have any doubts and handed the Indiana University product his first start against the Montreal Impact on Wednesday.
“There’s obviously a main group of guys who get the most minutes, but everyone has trust in everyone in our team,” the midfielder said about his entrance in the lineup. “You’re part of this team for a reason and everyone now that when your name is called you’re going to be able to put on a good shift on the field. So any time it happens it means a lot to the team in terms of depth and confidence.”
Replacing a player as influential as Nagbe is certainly difficult and it wasn’t Morris’ goal to do so. The young midfielder had similar efficiency when moving the ball, connecting 94.1 percent of his passes, slightly below the 98.1 percent the star veteran averaged after the tournament in Florida.
Part of Morris’ game has been refined by Nagbe himself, who the Homegrown player defines as one of his main mentors on the Black & Gold roster.
“Everyone in the team has been of big help, but especially Darlington,” the rookie added. “We talk a lot about little details of the game that you might not see while watching it for the first time. We talk a lot about my clips and little things I could work on. Talking to a guy with that level of experience at that level, who’s been playing in the league for such a long time and dominating the league for this time... There’s so much you can learn from a guy like that and I try to use his knowledge as much as I can.”
Their roles in the team have been massively different, though, as was made evident by Nagbe’s average of 51.8 passes per game, befitting with his position as the Crew’s midfield hub, while Morris moved the ball 22.7 times per match in his recent stretch.
Another thing rookie was able to bring to the team was his ball-winning, which saw him average 1.7 tackles per game, the fifth-best mark on the entire roster, the same as his 1.7 interceptions per game.
Morris is one of just three Homegrown players the Crew has on its roster for the 2020 Major League Soccer season alongside fellow midfielder Sebastian Berhalter and defender Aboubacar Keita. At this point, each of them had played at least 180 minutes, offering some important contributions to the team.
Don’t expect the Black & Gold to have multiple young players on their roster soon, but odds are those who are with the team will have their chances, sooner or later.
“I don’t sign or play young players just for the sake of doing it,” Porter explained. “The moment I saw those three and started scouting them, I knew we had to keep these guys around. We had the feeling they could be succession players in our depth chart and it’s great to have Homegrown guys who can fill those holes. They know our system, they’re good kids and they work hard. They have a great mentality and it’s just going to get better. They played a little bit more than we thought they would this year because of injuries, but also because of their performances in training and how they developed. It’s great for them and it’s also good for us.”