Amid a breakout season in Columbus, Morris aims to take advantage of USMNT Gold Cup opportunity
June 21, 2023
THE UNITED STATES national team won the CONCACAF Nations League over the weekend and the team’s focus will now shift to the Gold Cup, where the program will be looking to build up depth. For several players, the tournament will be an important audition and an opportunity to build a case to be part of the team’s future.
Adian Morris, 21, is one of the American players with the most to gain from this tournament. The central midfielder enters camp amid a breakout season where is helping to lead the Columbus Crew back among the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
The homegrown midfielder has started all 18 of the team’s games and has scored three goals and notched two assists as the Crew sit in fifth place but are trending upward having three wins and a draw in their last four games.
“Professional sports has ebbs and flows,” Morris told American Soccer Now. “You can't lose sight of a few weeks ago we lost a couple on the road in a row as well. So I think within the locker room, I think it's keeping your highs high, and your lows low - staying level headed and stay in the present. We're learning but we're trending in the right direction.”
But the overall numbers for Morris this season in Columbus have been very good in a variety of metrics – pass completion, chances created, tackles, duel winning, and dribbling. Part of this is due to new head coach Wilfried Nancy who replaced Caleb Porter in the last offseason.
Early in the season, Nancy was intrigued working with Morris and he had some clear ideas in the way to improve Morris as a player.
Aidan Morris: raw # for #Crew96 in a 2-2 draw with Orlando— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) May 14, 2023
5/5 long balls
4 chances created
4 passes into the final 1/3
9/12 ground duels
"He has a lot of activity on the pitch, but now the challenge that I have for him is, he runs too much," the French head coach said early in the season. "He has to stay a little bit more in his position, to be able to free up the space for his teammates or free up the space for him to be able to play. This is not natural for him because he likes to touch the ball... The idea is for him to be more composed in terms of his position."
"It's better to have a player like this instead of the opposite," he added. "But the fact that Aidan now is able to understand his position, he’s more efficient. He runs better. For me, this is most important."
For Morris, he has seen his game take off because of this blunt but straight forward approach from Nancy – who was also successful in Montreal in helping players such as Djordje Mihailovic achieve similar breakouts while also helping the team win.
As a teenager, Morris was highly rated by Columbus. His career high point came in MLS Cup 2020 when starter Darlington Nagbe came down with COVID two days before the final. Porter made the surprising decision to start the young Morris and he delivered an eye-opening performance in helping the Crew to win the midfield battle against a Seattle team led by Nicholas Lodeiro. The Crew went on to a convincing 3-0 victory.
But 2021 was a massive setback for Morris who tore his ACL early in the season in a CONCACAF Champions League game and did not play a minute of the MLS season. 2022 saw him return to the field and gradually shake off the rust in what was an otherwise disappointing season for the Crew, which failed to make the playoffs.
But 2023 has now seen the introduction of Nancy who has helped Morris get back on track to the promising level he was at in 2020.
“I'm in a perfect environment right now,” Morris explained. “Wilfred's always, in a good way, trying to make me uncomfortable when I play. That comes with growth. Having that good support group that is pushing me to do my best. That sounds cliche but it is really that. Going through adversity in a game and seeing all the different situations that may occur and being able to deal with that cool-headed is what you want to be. I think he is bringing that side out of me. He's pushing me every game to try something new and different.”
Aidan Morris has been terrific to start the season for Columbus. He looks more and more like the player people hoped he would be before his ACL tear. Really like what I’m seeing from him as a d-mid. Opens the scoring tonight vs Atlanta— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) March 26, 2023
“I always need to work on things,” he continued. “I am trying to do the same things I've been doing but doing them better - breaking lines with my passing, knowing what I want to do before I get the ball, knowing the times when to use my dribbling skills, knowing the times when to play it quick, positionally - there's so much stuff. Wilfried brings it to the table and lets me know straight. Like, 'here's what we're going to do, this is what we're going to work on.' It makes the goal seem a lot clearer.”
Unsurprisingly, Morris has begun to take important strides within U.S. Soccer. He is part of a difficult generation of young players in the 2001/02 birth years who saw their U-20 cycle cancelled due to COVID, thus denying them an important international stage early in their careers. On top of that, Morris’ ACL injury set him back at a time when other top players from that age group were getting key opportunities with U.S. Soccer in friendlies as well as the 2021 Gold Cup.
But Morris has been making up for lost time quickly. In October 2022, he was invited to participate in a U-20 camp as a guest overage player because he was identified as a key U.S. U-23 prospect for the 2024 Olympics in Paris. Then in 2023, he was part of the U.S. national team January camp as well as being named to the roster for a friendly against Mexico in April – where he played the final 25 minutes in a 1-1 draw.
This has built the case for his Gold Cup call-up which will get underway for the U.S. team when they host Jamaica on Saturday.
“These are the things you aspire to do,” Morris said of the Gold Cup. “But then there's also the sense of like - now I've gotta perform. I've got to make the most of this opportunity that I'm given. Anytime you get to step on the field and represent your country is an amazing opportunity. I know that said a lot. Going to these things is never going to be easy. I am not playing with these guys on a daily basis. But it's about forming a group and forming an environment where you want to fight for the guy beside you. That is the most important thing when it comes to competing in a tournament like this where it is such a short timeframe of games.”
When Morris steps on the field for the U.S. team at the Gold Cup, it will permanently tie cap-tie him to the United States for international competitions. While he was born and grew in in Florida before moving to Indiana for a year of college soccer then to Ohio to play for the Crew, he also holds Italian and Canadian passports. Over the past few months, however, the Canadian federation was actively trying to convince him to play for their national team.
But in the end, he opted for the United States, despite knowing that breaking into the team would be harder.
“My dad was born [in Montreal], and I grew up going there every summer and I got a lot of family there,” Morris said. “What the Canadian Soccer Federation did for me in trying to bring me on as part of their plan and part their journey to the next World Cup was amazing. I can't thank them enough for the support they showed me and how much they valued me was awesome. When it came to the decision, I just went with my heart and my heart lies in the U.S. That will probably be more of a difficult journey and a process, but for who I am and how I represent myself, I am not going to shy away from a journey or a little bit harder of one, because I think that's what shapes a man and brings out the best.”
While his ACL tear and COVID cancelling his U-20 cycle might have quieted the hype emerging young players typically receive, Morris is starting to reverse the trend with his form in 2023. The year ahead looks even bigger as the U.S. U-23 team will soon begin preparations for Paris and Morris is likely to have a big role. When asked about his ambition to play in the big leagues in Europe, Morris states confidently: “I'll be there.”
Obviously 2023 has been a good ride so far for Morris, but it is just the first step of what he hopes will be a huge year ahead.