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SSFC Spotlight: Aidan Morris back to steering Columbus Crew SC

The young midfielder returned from injury.

MLS: New England Revolution at Columbus Crew SC Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The early-career injury can be devastating to a young player, derailing progress and snuffing out promise. While some are able to overcome these early struggles and return to past prominence, others cannot find their way back to the field or begin a slow slump to retirement. At a mere 20 years old, Aidan Morris has already experienced the peaks and valleys of professional soccer: winning a title, suffering an ACL injury, and enduring a long rehabilitation process. Now healthy, the Columbus Crew midfielder is back to his old ways and displaying his prodigious talent in Major League Soccer.

Born in Fort Lauderdale, Morris played with Florida-based Weston FC. In 2017, he left home to join the Columbus Crew Academy and “frequently trained with the first team.” His U-19 side finished third in the 2018 Development Academy playoffs, with the midfielder being named to the Central Conference Best XI after scoring eight times in 42 appearances.

As a four-star recruit and the 61st ranked prospect, a 17-year-old Morris matriculated to Indiana University and quickly became a “dominant personality” with the ability to “affect the game” with and without the ball. In his sole season with the powerhouse Indiana Hoosiers program, the “caged tiger” appeared in 22 matches and contributed eight assists, helping claim the Big Ten Men’s Soccer Tournament. The star was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year and the Top Drawer Soccer National Freshman of the Year, while collecting an assortment of Team of the Year and All-America inclusions.

Morris signed a Homegrown contract with the Crew prior to the 2020 season. He made his debut at the MLS is Back Tournament, appearing for 14 minutes in the opener against FC Cincinnati. The midfielder played in ten matches during the regular season, picking up experience during the crowded schedule and learning from the club’s veteran core.

In a stunning and unexpected show of confidence after not appearing during the playoffs, manager Caleb Porter deployed him in the starting lineup in place of Darlington Nagbe, who was out following a positive COVID test. Morris became the youngest player in league history to start in MLS Cup, playing 90 minutes and registering an assist in the 3-0 victory over the Seattle Sounders. He thrived in possession and played a key role in the direct style, maintaining a high passing accuracy.

“I’m just a kid kicking a ball around for the most part,” Morris said after claiming the championship. “It’s just another game, just having fun. I’m alongside the guys I love playing with, amazing teammates. It goes back to my staff and my teammates. They make it enjoyable every day, so coming into training, especially during tough times like this year, it’s always enjoyable… I was prepared from the beginning of the season from the staff and the players. It was a key message that was drilled into my head. It was always to be ready and that’s kind of the motto I lived by this year.”

As expected, Morris began the next season in the starting lineup, playing 60 minutes in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 against Real Estelí of Nicaragua. Unfortunately, he suffered a “severe Anterior Cruciate Ligament injury in his left knee” nine minutes into the second leg, “landing awkwardly” after “planting his leg when trying to stop and change directions.” The ensuing reconstruction and rehabilitation kept him on the sidelines for the rest of 2021.

This year, Morris appears to have made a full recovery, enjoying the “passion and intensity” of returning to the field. A few months of bouncing around the senior rotation and the reserve team, he has made his return to the starting lineup, providing additional defensive bite. His continued presence has directly coincided with the Crew’s nine-match unbeaten streak. and the midfielder was recently named to the MLS Team of the Week.

“[Coming back from injury] makes you appreciate things a little bit more,” expressed Morris. “You can never take it for granted. I’m very lucky and grateful to do something I love every single day. When it’s taken from you in a second, it gives you a very different perspective on everything. Every time I step on that field, it’s an opportunity to get better at what I love to do and do it with people I love being around. There’s no bigger thing in the world for me than that. I guess I cherish it a little bit more than I did before.”

At the international level, Morris competed with various American youth international sides. He most recently appeared with the U-20 side in January of 2020, starting in a friendly against Mexico. While yet to receive a call-up from Gregg Berhalter, there is a growing belief among observers that his particular skill set would provide some extra sharpness in the center of the formation.

Morris thrives as either a box-to-box or deep-lying holding midfielder in Porter’s possession-based tactical style, mainly playing short-distance passes and field switches. Described as a “winner” and fighter,” he is an absolute workhorse on the defensive side of the ball that specializes in shutting down opposing dribblers. His efforts are in the MLS’ 99th percentile for tackles, 94th for pressures, and 79th for winning aerial duels. Chasing a Cup praises him as having a “really fantastic” defensive game with “good awareness, speed, and tenacity” that allow him to act as a “danger-mitigating six,” which is a position in need of depth for the USMNT.

Morris is an intriguing prospect who rebounded from a devastating injury and appears to have reestablished his soaring trajectory. Despite losing a full year of development, he was able to regain his place with the Crew and is becoming a leader in the squad. His stability in the formation is an asset that could perhaps also be utilized at the senior international level, where do-it-all two-way midfielders with a calm presence are ever so useful in the static and stodgy fixtures of tournament play.