One of the biggest storylines from MLS Cup 2020 was Crew homegrown rookie Aidan Morris being forced to fill the shoes of MLS star Darlington Nagbe on short notice. At 19 years of age, Morris became the youngest player to ever start an MLS Cup final. After his sterling performance, he described himself as just a kid kicking a soccer ball. Crew alumni, however, saw it differently. Here is a sampling of what they had to say about the legendary MLS Cup 2020 performance of young Aidan Morris, a newly-minted Massive Champion.
“It’s a testament to the depth of the team and to the coaches for getting players experience so that when they get opportunities like this, they aren’t completely gobsmacked and overcome by the moment. I think Aidan Morris is a perfect example of that. He’s a 19-year-old kid in the middle of the park against a really stellar Seattle team. Going in, everyone was talking about Jordan, Jordan, Jordan (Morris) and it was all about Aidan, Aidan, Adain (Morris.) I don’t think he put a foot wrong. He played a great game. The way he tackles, that’s the way you play the game. And he’s a 19-year-old kid. You just battle your ass off and things will work out. You get the ball and then give it to someone else. There’s a guy on your team worth $7 million, so just win the ball and get it to him.”
“I thought Aidan was unbelievable. Whenever I’ve coached high school or youth teams, my big thing before the game is who’s going to get the first tackle? You can send a message with a clean tackle where you get stuck in hard. I don’t know if it was the first minute or what minute it was, but Aidan got stuck in on a midfield tackle and I was like, ‘That’s awesome.’ You could tell he was dialed in. Anyone needs something like that to feel like they’re in the game, and from then on, he stepped into open spaces and picked off passes. Then he got credit for an assist on starting the first goal when he won the ball and went the other way.
“It hasn’t fallen short on me that the impact the Hoosier Nation has had on the Columbus Crew is unbelievable. I know Todd (Yeagley) is proud of that. I know Jerry Yeagley is proud of that. The Hoosier program, it’s awesome that there’s a lineage (with the Crew) that traces back to day one.”
“You can’t teach his competitive spirit. He worked really hard to be in that position and he’s always trying to get better. He was a rotation player this year, but Aidan’s always going to be ready. Darlington’s maybe the best midfielder in the league, so for Aidan to come in and do the job he did, he didn’t try to overdo it. He played like himself and he had so much composure. It was really cool to see and we’re all proud of that. We saw a lot of growth in the short time we had him at Indiana, and his growth with the Crew is really special to me.”
“Aidan Morris was basically Duncan Oughton out there, nipping at your heels and winning the ball and getting the ball off his feet and to the right players. What a performance from that kid. Thrown into the biggest game of your career on two days notice and you play that strong? You play like that? That kid can play.”
“Aidan steps in as a young rookie, and Darlington’s shoes are almost too big to fill, but for Aidan to do what he did is pretty incredible. I thought he played really well.”
“When I heard Aidan we getting the start, knowing his temperament, I knew the moment wouldn’t be too big for him. I think he proved last night that he’s ready for that level. We as a coaching staff (at Indiana) were extremely excited for him. He didn’t look like a rookie. He only started a few games in the regular season and then he gets a spot start in MLS Cup and he definitely played very well. That kid’s got a bright future coming.
“When Jonathan Mensah gives a kid a stamp of approval, you know it means something because he’s a big student of the game and he is a man of character. I’ve checked in with some guys on Aidan this year, whether it’s Darlington or Josh or anyone, and they were always like, ‘He’s the real deal, even just from a mentality standpoint.’ That’s great to hear because it’s tough to come into a new environment that’s very demanding, and it might be easy to put your head down, but that’s not the type of kid he is. He’s a grinder and he’s super talented, so hopefully this can be a springboard for him to a new level. I think that kid will do a lot more for the Crew and hopefully the national team.
“I’d like to say it was due to my tutelage, but I would be lying because he was fantastic before he got here. (Indiana.) He’s very aggressive and he’s got a really good engine. He’s more technically proficient than I was, and that part of his game is more finely tuned, but when it comes to his mentality and where to be on the field and how to recover from a mistake, the kid is like a sponge. He’s a kid who wanted to watch film and wanted to tear the heart out of the other team. We knew right away that he wasn’t going to stay (in NCAA soccer) for long. We knew when he got a chance to go pro, he would go because he was ready. He obviously showed it last night.”
“I think everyone knows Darlington has big shoes to fill, but from watching the match, I think what Aidan brought was even a little different. Darlington’s passing is obviously second to none, so I think Aidan’s pass completion probably caught Seattle by surprise a bit. And his ability to help win the ball and then drive forward with the ball and things like that, maybe it was a surprise for Seattle. It was a slightly different perspective from the Crew side, which played in their favor. He was the youngest guy to ever start in an MLS Cup final and he was immense in that match. I think that bodes well for the future.”
“I didn’t know much about Morris. I’d heard good things, but I hadn’t seen him play that much. I thought he was outstanding last night. I was really impressed with his effort and energy and quality.”
KATIE WITHAM (Former Crew and current FOX sideline reporter)
“I was lucky enough to have one goal celebration right in front of me and I heard Aidan Morris screaming his face off and being such a leader. I had to look at my roster, like ‘How old is this kid again?’ The guys are going nuts and celebrating the second goal, and I can hear plain as day, Aidan Morris yelling ‘We’re not done yet! Let’s get back out there! We’re getting another one!’ It just conveyed so much about this young kid that we’re just getting to know, not only in Columbus, but also on the national level.”
“I actually got to see him play with Indiana, working for Ohio State. He commanded the field as a freshman in college. Its been fun to see his zeal this year, just going out there and having fun and putting in the work and taking opportunities and running with them. When I knew Darlington wasn’t going to play, I was hoping it was going to be Aidan because I feel like he has proven this year that he is very capable. He brings spark, energy, and grit to the central midfield. I was very happy to see him get called upon as a homegrown player.”
“I watched that kid Morris when he was in college at Indiana. I called a couple of his games. That dude is a beast. He was a beast when he was 17 and was a freshman. And he just slid right in there at MLS Cup and did his job. I like him a lot.”
“Honestly, at first I felt bad for the kid. It’s such a tough spot to be put in, where you have to try to replace the best player in the league at his position and on such a big stage. What a tough spot. But during the game, I tweeted something to the effect that Columbus wasn’t missing Darlington at all. And I was only half-joking because he played so well on both sides of the ball. I thought he was very good on the ball and in possession and starting some attacks, so it was a really good game from him. It was really impressive under some tough circumstances. The first time I saw him this year, I don’t remember which game it was, but I was like, ‘Man, who is this kid?’ So kudos to him, because it was a massive performance. He didn’t just fill in. He helped the team win.”
“As a professional athlete, when your number is called, you have to step up. For him to rise to the occasion and to play the way that he did at such a young age, you don’t see that all the time. It was just a fitting storyline with everything that went into us winning MLS Cup. I mean, obviously, going back through the last three years and then for us to be right on the doorstep and hosting the final, but then to have one of our homegrown players trying to fill some unfillable shoes. But he did it in his way. I mean, obviously he’s not the same type of player that Darlington is, which isn’t to diminish Aidan at all. Aidan came in and did exactly what he needed to do. He focused on running his tail off, being disruptive, getting the ball, and giving it to someone else. The thing that set him apart, and the thing I thought Seattle would exploit with his youth and inexperience, is that I thought Seattle would press him and try to make him cough the ball up. And they did press. But nine-and-a-half times out of ten, he made the right pass or the right touch. I don’t think people expected that.
“When you’re playing for a championship at home, there’s so much pressure on you as a player. In some ways, he may have been so young that he just thought he was going to go out there and play. I’m not sure what the message was from Caleb to him, but I’m sure it was to not to try to be Darlington and to just do what you do. Because he played in a few games during the season and they saw him every day at training, they knew what he could do. Everyone was comfortable with him on the field. In some ways, I think we were better prepared for it than Seattle was because we knew what Aidan was going to bring to the table and there wasn’t much out there to scout on him. And even if you did scout him, who would have thought he would have thought he’d be able to handle everything that he did?
“After the game, I saw Aidan talking with Lucas. I couldn’t hear everything, but I could tell from the mannerisms that Lucas was congratulating him on playing so well. And then I heard him ask Aidan how old he was and Aidan said 19 and Lucas looked like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s amazing.’ So yeah, hats off to Aidan. Kudos to that performance.”
“For Aidan to step on the field and perform the way he did in a final, I think it was just great tactics by Caleb where he just sent him out there to mark Lodeiro out of the game. Aidan’s a ball winner and he doesn’t take any crap and he’s so strong. He’s tough. What a perfect role of Aidan. He has a bright future, which because of this game, we all know now. It’s an amazing moment for him because there aren’t a lot of rookie players who win a championship right away in any sport, let alone almost star in the championship. So kudos to him and the coaching staff.”
My latest book “A Massive Collection, Volume 1” is now available!
Also, for those who like to support local businesses, signed paperback copies are available at Prologue Bookshop in the Short North.