Crew's Horton handles heat in first professional action

OBETZ, Ohio — Friday will mark a month since Aaron Horton was signed as the Columbus Crew’s first Home Grown Player. The attacker from suburban Columbus came through the Crew academy and spent one season at the University of Louisville.

When asked on May 17 if he expected to get into an MLS match this season, optimistically replied, “If I keep putting in my time and working 110 percent, which I will do, then I’ll get my chance. I have to earn my stripes and hopefully I’ll do that.”

However, even the 19-year-old forward couldn’t have predicted his debut would come so soon. On June 8, Horton entered in the 89th minute for Jeff Cunningham and was given the task of trying to stretch the Real Salt Lake defense with his speed, counterattacking while the Crew held on for a 2-1 victory.

“It was surreal,” Horton said of his debut.

The moment was made even more special because he replaced his idol, Cunningham, the player Horton once to took to his fourth grade class for show-and-tell.

“The last month has been crazy just for the sense of getting my first professional team, coming in and working hard every day,” Horton said. “I love it. It’s been a great experience. Honestly, a month ago, I wouldn’t say that I’d be sitting here now having played in a game.”

He fully understands he was the beneficiary of unusual circumstances leading to his first appearance.

Forwards Tommy Heinemann and Emilio Rentería were injured as were several attacking midfielders. And winger Robbie Rogers is still on national team duty.

“There’s a lot of things that have allowed me to get into the lineup,” Horton said. “At the same time, I have to keep working hard and I have to be ready when opportunities open up. I was ready on Wednesday.”

Horton said the biggest adjustment as a pro is fitness.

“I still need to work on that,” he said. “I see how much of an impact it has, especially when you’re training hard every day at this level.”

Polish-born Crew coach Robert Warzycha likes the way MLS is handling the locally-produced talent.

“What’s good for the program and the way we are doing it, the kid is at home. He is in an environment where he grew up,” Warzycha said. “Most of us being in European clubs, I went to one miles and miles away from home.

“I had to live by myself, which is not a big deal, but if you go to a new town and professional environment, there’s even more pressure,” he added. “He can see his parents every day. He can see his friends and then come over here to practice.”

Horton said the only drawback to leaving college early is that he’s the youngest player on the team.

“They all treat me nice,” he said. “Of course, I get some of the rookie pranks. They sometimes throw my clothes everywhere in the locker room, but that’s nothing.”