The Columbus Crew earned a 1-0 win against Real Esteli on Thursday night in the second leg of the Round of 16 in the CONCACAF Champion League. The Black & Gold advance to the quarterfinals with a 5-0 aggregate series win.
But that was not the major story from the game. In the fourth minute of the match, midfielder Aidan Morris went into a tackle at midfield near the sideline, looking to cut off an Esteli attacker. The second-year Homegrown product did not make contact but appeared to land awkwardly.
Morris remained on the ground for several minutes off the field and multiple members of the Crew’s medical staff came over to examine him as play continued on the field. Morris got up slowly and appeared to test his leg a few times before taking a seat on the bench with an ice pack. He was replaced in the ninth minute by central defender Grant Lilliard — who made his Black & Gold debut — and pushed Perry Kitchen, a holding midfielder by trade, further up the field.
After halftime, Morris sat just outside the player entrance tunnel on a chair with crutches and a full leg brace on his left leg.
Following the game, head coach Caleb Porter didn’t provide any positive news when it came to Morris’ injury, saying “it looks pretty bad.”
“Forget our season, forget all of the selfish reasons you can be upset about it,” a dejected Porter said. “I’m just sad for him because he was playing well and he’s really starting to blossom right underneath our eyes, every game getting better, every training getting better. He’s a young kid.”
As a rookie in 2020, Morris made 10 appearances for Columbus, including two starts, in the regular season. Morris played and started just one game in the MLS Cup playoffs, the MLS Cup Final for the unavailable Darlington Nagbe, where he put in an impressive performance.
Morris started this year brightly, starting the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 against Esteli and playing 60 minutes. Again, the young Homegrown player performed well as he continued his development.
After moving from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Columbus to join the Crew’s Academy, Morris spent the 2019 season at Indiana University where he was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Morris signed with the Crew in January of 2020.
While losing Morris is a blow, the central midfield spot is a place where the Black & Gold have some depth with four players who can step into that role in Darlington Nagbe, Artur, Kitchen and Homegrown rookie Isiaih Parente. Porter also said the Crew could look into bringing back another Homegrown player, Sebastian Berhalter, who is on loan with Austin FC, but sounded pleased with where the depth stands at the moment.
“Obviously we do have quite a bit of depth in the No. 6 and the No. 8,” the head coach said. “Darlington will be back shortly. Artur I thought had a really good 45… We do have depth with Perry Kitchen, Isaiah Parente, Darlington and Artur. So we’ll evaluate where we’re at and for sure if it’s something we need to look at we could for sure do that but I think right now with four D-mids, I think we’ll be okay.”
The good news is not only that the Black & Gold advanced in the Champions League on Thursday night but also came through the game with no other injuries before the MLS season opener against the Philadelphia Union.
“We’re rested, we’re fresh,” Porter said. “We’re ready to file this away and face Philadelphia on Sunday.”