Named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2019, Aidan Morris left Indiana after one season in Bloomington, turning pro with the Columbus Crew SC via a Homegrown deal.
At the very end of his first professional season, one that saw him play limited minutes in a year hampered by a global pandemic, a positive test for teammate Darlington Nagbe opened the door for the rookie to start in MLS Cup.
Morris embraced the challenge with aplomb, helping the Crew cruise to a comfortable 3-0 win against the Seattle Sounders FC on Saturday night.
Simply by slotting into the starting lineup, the Fort Lauderdale, Florida native made history. He became the youngest player to ever start in MLS Cup at the age of 19 years, 27 days. The record that Morris eclipsed previously belonged to Landon Donovan. He joined heady company even before kicking the ball.
It was a performance of polish and poise for the 19-year-old, who was deployed in a double pivot alongside Artur, Morris hardly looked out of place. This despite replacing Nagbe, a player that oozes calmness and control on the game. Tasked with shutting down Uruguayan attacking midfielder Nico Lodeiro, the numbers backed up an impressive performance.
While the Crew didn’t exactly look to dominate possession – part of that boils down to ceding the ball with a two-goal lead at the half – Morris attempted the third-most passes on his team (35) completing them at a 77% rate. Central midfielders must show ball security, so five lost balls were obviously a minor blemish. He balanced that out with eight ball recoveries, second-most on the team. Most impressive about that, half of those came in the Crew’s attacking half, showing that he could win the ball both in front of his own goal and in the final third.
Despite his relative inexperience, Morris threw himself into challenges, but not in a reckless manner. He attempted a team-high nine tackles, and while he won just 44% of them, there was never a moment where he made the wrong decision or left his team exposed by pulling himself out of position.
Morris’ performance may not have shown up on the score sheet (he was credited with an assist after playing a pass to Harrison Afful, whose cross was turned into the goal by MLS Cup MVP Lucas Zelarayan) but it was an extremely notable 90 minutes from a player that should play a critical role in the 2021 Under-20 World Cup cycle.
"I'm just a kid kicking a ball around for the most part," Morris told reporters about his performance and how he tried to approach it. "It's just another game, just having fun.”
All stats cited courtesy of InStat Football.