Life comes at you fast.
In terms of American soccer, none faster than 19-year-old Columbus Crew Homegrown midfielder Aidan Morris, who looked almost suspiciously comfortable in his team’s championship performance on Saturday.
Almost suspicious because Morris had to turn on a dime in the run-up to the match. Going from an understudy to crucial contributor Darlington Nagbe, to filling his shoes on two day’s notice after a positive COVID-19 test factored him out is no small task, let alone in such a high stakes scenario.
This time last year, he was fresh off an NCAA tournament run with the Indiana Hoosiers. Now, he is an MLS Cup Champion with only three starts to his name.
Morris didn’t look like a rookie on Saturday, turning in a standout performance and rewarding the gutsy decision by head coach Caleb Porter to afford him the opportunity.
“When I knew Darlington was out, he was the guy that was going to go in. He’s an IU boy. IU breeds champions. They breed winners,” Porter said of Morris. “If a guy is good enough, I’m going to give him the chance, but if he’s not, I’m not. I’m lot a lover of playing young guys just to do it, but Aidan Morris is a winner. He’s a fighter, I knew it,”
Before a ball was kicked, Morris etched his name in league history on Saturday. His appearance pushed Landon Donovan down to second in the records of the youngest player to start in an MLS Cup Final, and added to it with being the youngest-ever involved in a goal in such an occasion.
The beauty of the secondary, or ‘MLS assist’ is in the eye of the beholder, but Morris earned credit for starting the attack which ended with a Lucas Zelarayán masterpiece in the Crew’s first of three unanswered goals.
That was not his biggest accomplishment from the evening, though.
Nagbe is almost irreplaceable and teams do not want to test him or his defensive prowess. The big accomplishment for Morris was playing well enough to keep Nagbe’s absence from being a void that cost the Crew a title.
“Nobody wants that. Especially a key role in our team like Darlington. But you know, I was I was prepared from the beginning of season from the staff and the players,” Morris said. “That was drilled into my head, was always to be ready, and that’s kind of the motto I live by this year. So, two days ago I got mentally prepared and physically prepared.”
To battle with Nicolas Lodeiro for 90 minutes while also making sure league greats Jordan Morris and Raúl Ruidíaz are contained is a lot to ask for. You could understand and forgive someone as young as 19, with only two MLS starts to his name prior to, getting outfoxed and being overwhelmed.
He was not seen getting burned at any point in the game.
Not only did he help keep the stacked Sounders attack quiet, Morris also led his team in passes and shared the lead in tackles to provide an air of calmness which allowed Zelarayán and company to swing the hammer for the duration of the match without consequence.
“I’m just a kid kicking a ball around for the most part, it’s just another game. Just having fun,” Morris said, doing his best to try and downplay a showing that has turned him from rookie on the bench to folk hero with a winner’s medal and place in the MLS record book.