As a historic English club languishing in the third tier of English soccer with a rabidly-passionate fanbase, pressure is an inseparable part of life at Sunderland AFC.
That's without any extenuating circumstances, like being a young winger joining on deadline day of the January transfer window as the club pushed for promotion. Or like arriving as a film crew captures everything, gathering material for a second season of Sunderland 'Til I Die, the acclaimed Netflix docuseries.
“It was a little weird," Morgan told MLSsoccer.com Thursday about the camera crew's presence. "I think they reigned it in a little from the year before; they said the Netflix crew had very much full access before I was there. I think they kind of restricted that a little more, but the cameras were there all the time. Eventually you get used to it and you don’t notice them, but to get used to it was a little bit different.”
(If you're planning on watching Season Two of Sunderland 'Til I Die and are unaware of how their season ended, consider this sentence your spoiler alert.)
The club's charge for promotion was boosted by the arrival of Morgan and forward Will Grigg as deadline-day signings. Sunderland were fighting for automatic promotion back to the Championship, which is awarded to the top two finishers in League One, while teams in third place through sixth qualify for a playoff to determine the third club promoted. Sunderland had been around the top of the league all season, and needed a slight push to get over the edge.
As Morgan played a key role over the last few months of the season, Sunderland's tragedy was cruelly slow. They controlled their own destiny for automatic promotion, but won just one of their final seven matches. A trip to the playoff final followed suit, one match against Charlton at the iconic Wembley Stadium with promotion on the line.
After Sunderland took the lead within five minutes, the game was tied 1-1 deep into second-half stoppage time. With seconds left, Charlton defender Patrick Bauer knocked in the game-winner after a scramble in the penalty box. Another year in the third flight of English soccer awaited the storied club, who have spent 86 of their 109 years of existence in the top flight.
“I’ve only got fond memories from being there," Morgan said, adding he's not watched the docuseries. "It's a massive club. When I was down there I was trying to concentrate on the football side of things and we didn’t achieve the goals we wanted to, which obviously wasn’t great. I’m hoping they can get back to where they belong."
Morgan returned to Celtic that summer and stayed with the squad heading into the 2019-20 season. A few clubs then came calling for his signature, including Inter Miami.
“I had a few clubs in the Championship (with offers)," Morgan said. "But to be honest, once I heard of the interest here and how keen the club were to get me, that kind of made my mind up.”
Morgan wanted to join the club's expansion season and tackle a new project. He also hoped the move would mark the return of regular playing time, and he earned exactly that before MLS was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Morgan started both of their matches and assisted their inaugural goal, a Rodolfo Pizarro finish against D.C. United.
With playing time can come more opportunities with Scotland's national team. Morgan made two appearances in 2018, and was an unused substitute for their last three European Championship qualifiers.
“I know Johnny well from the Scottish national team," Morgan said. "He said to jump at the opportunity. He’s done really well out here and it actually helped propel him onto the national stage as well. I’m looking to get games for the national team. I can look to him as proof that can happen.”