When the Columbus Crew open their 2022 MLS campaign on Feb. 26 by hosting Vancouver Whitecaps FC, it’ll be just over 10 months since homegrown midfielder Aidan Morris suffered a season-ending ACL tear.

That blow arrived last April in a Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 second-leg game vs. Nicaragua’s Real Estelí, a left-knee injury that stunted a potential breakout season before it could really flourish.

But now the promising 20-year-old US youth international is healthy and eager for a bounceback year.

“It was amazing, puts a smile on my face now,” Morris said from Crew preseason training camp in his native Florida. “It made all that work I did for those last six, seven, eight months worth it.

“I could work with [fitness coach Federico Pizzuto] on the side all day every day, but it's just different when you're around your teammates and when you've got your coaches pushing you all the time. There's a different level of passion and intensity that goes into that. I soaked up every minute, every second of it. It was amazing.”

Morris’ injury followed a 2020 MLS Cup-winning season where centerpiece Darlington Nagbe, after a positive COVID-19 test, couldn't feature in that fateful championship win over Seattle Sounders FC. In stepped the Indiana University product, becoming the youngest player in league history to start MLS Cup at 19 years and 27 days old – even assisting in the 3-0 win.

It was a performance that suggested Morris was ready for the spotlight, though his ACL tear was ultimately the first of several long-term injuries that meant 2021 was a persistent uphill climb for his team. Key free-agent signing Kevin Molino, striker Gyasi Zardes and center back Vito Wormgoor were among the headliners who missed time.

They won the Campeones Cup over Liga MX’s Cruz Azul, but finished one point shy of the Eastern Conference’s seventh and final playoff spot. Club-record signing Lucas Zelarayan, their DP No. 10, sparked them to four wins in their final six games. It was enough, however.

“I think the way we ended the season had a sour taste in our mouths,” Morris said. “I think we were playing really well and I think that leads us in great to this year. We have a lot of energy, we have a lot of desire, ambition to be the team we were in 2020 and 2019 and be better than that. We're all so confident still. We know the team we are, we know the players we are. When we gel, we're a force to be reckoned with.”

As for what role awaits Morris, the health of Brazilian midfielder Artur could impact the equation. Head coach Caleb Ported noted he’s still out with “chronic hip pain” and Columbus may look to sign a player for reinforcements. The Crew also have several other homegrowns in contention, with Sebastian Berhalter back from a loan in 2021 to Austin FC and fellow college soccer products Isaiah Parente (Wake Forest) and Sean Zawadzki (Georgetown) chasing bigger roles. Perry Kitchen and Marlon Hairston, MLS veterans, are factors as well.

Morris arguably has the most potential of that group, yet regaining past levels won’t be easy.

“We need to start in that part of the field, the talent, the strength, we need quality,” Porter said. “We have some young guys, but they're young and you need to see where they're at.”

There’s no denying Morris is driven to reclaim his spot. His Crew first-team career is a shade over 500 minutes old (all competitions), emerging from its early stages.

“​​It makes you appreciate things a little bit more, you can never take it for granted,” Morris said of his injury return. “I'm very lucky and grateful to do something I love every single day. When it's taken from you in a second, it gives you a different perspective on everything.”