By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Apr 21, 2023) US Soccer Players – Aidan Morris has had a very good year, and it’s only April. The latest highlight for the 21-year-old US international came on Wednesday night at State Farm Stadium where Morris played 26 minutes off the bench in the USMNT’s 1-1 draw against Mexico. The appearance was the Columbus Crew midfielder’s second-ever cap and his second cap of 2023, the first coming in a 90 minute performance in the American midfield against Serbia in January.
Taking the field against Mexico in an emotional rivalry matchup in front of more than 55,000 fans represented another massive step forward in the 21-year-old’s young career. USMNT head coach Anthony Hudson went out of his way to spotlight Morris in his postgame comments.
“I was so pleased for Aidan Morris,” he said. “I thought Aidan was fantastic. I’ve known Aidan since he was with the (U-20 team) and followed him ever since. He’s a young man that just keeps stepping up. Whatever challenge is put in front of him, he’s always going to step up to it. He’s a tough, tough, tough character. I was pleased with Aidan.”
Hudson wasn’t specific about which challenges he had in mind when talking about Morris’s toughness, but there’s no denying the midfielder has faced a few. Moving into the senior national team picture in 2023 as a 21-year-old was never a given for a player who missed a full season of soccer because of a long-term injury just two years ago.
Morris grew up in Florida and joined the Crew academy in 2017 after being recruited to move to Ohio to continue his development as a player. His rise through the academy earned him looks with the US youth national teams, where he played twice under Hudson with the U-20s against Mexico in 2020.
He spent a season playing college soccer at Indiana University, where he was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year and Top Drawer Soccer’s top-ranked freshman player nationally.
Columbus signed him to a homegrown player contract in 2020. Though he played fewer than 400 minutes that season, he was handed a start in the MLS Cup final by head coach Caleb Porter and had an excellent day in defensive midfield in the Crew’s victory over the Seattle Sounders.
2021 had barely started for Morris before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee just minutes into a Concacaf Champions League match against Real Esteli in February, an injury that cost him all of the 2021 MLS season. Following a grueling 10-month recovery, Morris began preparing himself for a comeback season in 2022.
Columbus missed the playoffs by two points last season, but Morris emerged as a key piece of the club’s future. Morris had 20 starts and played over 1,800 minutes while platooning with Artur in the defensive midfield position. With Artur traded to the Houston Dynamo in November, new Crew head coach Wilfried Nancy installed Morris in his starting lineup.
Working under Nancy is already helping Morris add a new element to his game at MLS level, goal scoring. Through eight games this season in MLS, Morris already has three goals, three more than his career total entering 2023. Two of Morris’s goals came in the same game, a 4-0 Crew romp over Real Salt Lake. That put on display the kind of soccer that Nancy hoped to bring to Columbus when he arrived from Montreal to take over the club this winter.
The sequence that led to the first of his two goals illustrates how Morris’s understanding of where to be and when to get there is accelerating during what will be only his second full season as an MLS regular. Following attacking runners ahead of him into the box, the midfielder arrived at the exact moment to fire home a first-time shot from a cutback pass.
Some of Morris’s goal-scoring exploits can be chalked up to his growth as a player. Some of it is a function of Nancy’s tactical approach and the areas of the field it asks Morris to take up. No matter which is more responsible for the improvement, the added dimension is a boon for Morris’s prospects for both club and country. Like Hudson, Morris’s club coach appreciates Morris’s drive to get better and his ability to rise to a challenge.
“The fact that he scored, we knew as a staff that he was able to score, it was not an issue for that,” Nancy said in the aftermath of the win over Real Salt Lake. “Now what I like about Aidan is that he was not happy about his game. And this is Aidan. He likes to all the time to challenge himself.”
Morris also benefits from playing alongside three-time MLS Cup champion Darlington Nagbe, now in his fourth season in Columbus. Nagbe’s unfortunate COVID-related absence from the MLS Cup final in 2020 allowed Morris to start that game and play a key role in delivering the Crew a second MLS Cup championship. Now playing a second season together as midfield partners, the pair is pushing each other to be at their respective best on both sides of the ball.
The Crew know what they have in Morris and made sure to secure his services for the foreseeable future when the club signed him to a new long-term contract extension on April 12. Barring a transfer, the deal keeps Morris with the Crew through 2026 and ensures that the midfielder’s immediate and very bright future will be spent in Ohio.
Jason Davis is the host of The United States of Soccer on SiriusXM.
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Photo by Robert Mora – ISIPhotos.com