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Crew’s Aidan Morris, Josh Williams show leadership through adversity after Open Cup defeat

Two of the Black & Gold’s youngest and oldest players stepped up and took responsibility after the loss.

MLS: US Open Cup-Columbus Crew at Detroit City FC Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday night in Hamtramck, Michigan, the Columbus Crew gave up a one-goal lead in the second half, losing to Detroit City FC of the USL Championship 2-1 in the U.S. Open Cup. It was a fourth consecutive defeat for the Crew in all competitions and the first time giving up a lead this year.

Before the Black & Gold loaded onto the bus to head back to Central Ohio, two players at different stages of their careers stepped up two address the couple of media members who made the trip to suburban Detroit, one current leader on the team and another who seems poise to take the role one day. Defender Josh Williams, a 13-year veteran, and midfielder Aidan Morris, playing in his third MLS season shared their thoughts not just about the result but an overall look into this year’s team.

“There’s a lot of emotions right now,” said Morris. “The one thing I can tell you is everyone realizes that they need to do better and us as a whole, as a team, it’s going to change. I know it’s kind of easy and cliché but it’s going to change. “

The 20 year old was visibly frustrated with not just the result but the current state of the Crew. Columbus’ recent three-match losing streak in MLS play was the frustration’s source. After all, losing in the third down of the Open Cup isn’t a new thing. The Black & Gold have done it before and was one of four MLS teams to bow out of the tournament at this stage this year.

To make matters worse, three of Columbus’ recent MLS defeats — to Nashville SC, the Philadelphia Union and Orlando City SC — haven’t seen the team score a goal and the only finish in this game came from a seventh minute Gyasi Zardes penalty kick.

Morris spoke for the team, showing the chops of a future Crew leader. Individually, Morris excelled against Detroit. In 90 minutes, the 20-year-old midfielder, who missed all of 2021 with a torn ACL looked hungry, moving across the midfield, pressing the opponent and winning duels on defense. Morris also drew the penalty kick. He also added a shot of his own that went left of the post.

Even with a standout performance by Morris, it wasn’t enough for Columbus. Like in recent games, something was missing.

“I just think it’s a desire. It’s a passion,” said Morris. “No matter where we are, we can’t let the event dictate kind of how we play.”

The event was in a loud Keyworth Stadium that quieted for only about 10 seconds through the 90 minutes after the Black & Gold went up a goal. Detroit was a side that sat back, looking for counter-attacking opportunities, and stayed patient. In the second half, the home side capitalized on a Columbus team that looked satisfied with a lead.

Morris ended his time saying that head coach Caleb Porter didn’t say much to the team in the locker room. That, ultimately, Columbus didn’t do their job, and everyone knows the role they need to play. He stepped up as a leader, not making excuses for the result.

Williams, who started playing professionally when Morris was only seven, echoed the emotion of the evening, but added the wisdom gained over years of the ups and downs of a professional soccer season.

“I’ve played in enough of these and you tell yourself over and over, ‘This is what it’s going to be,’ and you get in here and it’s exactly what you think,” said Williams. “To me, I place all of the blame on the guys inside the lines. The guys that came into the game, the guys that started the game.”

Between the lines, Williams played a strong match. It was his first full 90 minutes this season after sustaining an injury in the preseason. Williams was part of sound defense in both halves, but it was also his tackle that gave Detroit a penalty kick and the chance to take the lead late, something he owned up to.

The Crew’s defense allowed only two shots on goal in the match. Unfortunately for the visitors, they both went in. Up until Tuesday, the talking points surrounded the Black & Gold losing to some of the best teams in MLS. That wasn’t the case on Tuesday, playing against a team from the second division of U.S. Soccer.

“If you’re not ready, don’t prepare properly and don’t respect your opponent enough, you’ll get embarrassed and that’s exactly what happened,” said Williams.

In the short term, the loss knocks the Black & Gold out of the Open Cup and brings extra attention to their current form. Long term, however, maybe this game is that embarrassment that will push Columbus back to the form the team found at the end of the 2021 season and the form that saw the Crew winning two of its first three matches of the 2022 season, scoring eight goals in the process.

“I mean, it’s easy to go into training the next day and do it, but it’s always the weekend,” said Morris about carrying this feeling into the rest of the season. “That’s what always matters. That’s what people watch. That’s when you get points. It’s all about the weekend. If you can’t show up for 90 minutes, then it means nothing.”