In the past three games, it was a challenge to handle more of a workload than Aidan Morris.
In a 2-0 home win against Toronto FC on August 26, the 21-year-old midfielder logged all but five minutes to help the Crew grind out a second consecutive victory. Three days later, with the gametime temperature near 100 degrees more than 1,100 miles away in Houston, he followed that up by playing the entirety of a 2-0 loss at Shell Energy Stadium. And to cap off a whirlwind of three games in eight days, Morris again went the distance in last Saturday’s 4-2 win at CF Montreal.
Seventeen field players saw action during the three games. Twelve played in all three games. Two played in at least 265 of 270 possible minutes: forward Cucho Hernandez (269) and Morris (265). During a postgame phone conversation with The Dispatch after the win against Montreal moved the Crew to 13-8-6 (45 points), Morris wasn’t yet feeling the full effects of fatigue.
There is time to deal with that, given Major League Soccer’s two-week international break.
“From the second the whistle’s blown, it’s just recovery and turning things around,” Morris said. “Ice baths, stretching, massage, everything. I’m not going to say I wasn’t tired or wasn’t feeling it for sure in this game. Definitely. I’m 21 and young and still feeling it so I can’t imagine guys like Stevie (Moreira) and Darlington (Nagbe), who have played a good amount as well.
“It’s not easy. I think the MLS schedule is brutal, but everyone’s doing it.”
So goes life in MLS, where the Crew now grapples with its second lengthy layoff in roughly a month. After being eliminated from the inaugural Leagues Cup on August 4, the Crew had a 16-day layoff until resuming regular-season play with a rivalry showdown against FC Cincinnati. Now, after Saturday’s win against Montreal, the Crew won’t play again until a Sept. 16 road game with Orlando City SC, a game that will again kick off a run of three games in eight days.
The last time the Crew was afforded a lengthy break, coach Wilfried Nancy used the first couple of days as a de facto preseason camp to help the team’s four summer transfer window acquisitions acclimate to the club. This time around, the focus will be more on continued assimilation rather than the basics of the Crew’s system.
“I have to analyze what we have to be better at, but for sure I like the FIFA break because we can spend more moments with the individual players,” Nancy said after the win. “That’s a good moment to discuss with them. The idea now is to get other wins.”
Morris said he expects that the time away will allow the Crew to get sharper with their tactics.
“We’re such a detailed team in the way we move and our positioning on the field to where if we have time to work on that stuff a little bit more during the season, it’s crucial,” he said. “We try to take advantage of (the break). Wilfried always has us working on new things and also taking a step back and going back to our basics. That’s what we’ll probably do.”
The stated goal within the locker room is to not just qualify for the playoffs as quickly as possible but to also lock up as much home-field advantage as possible for the postseason. The top four seeds will host two games in the best-of-three first round, and from there the higher seeds will host the conference semifinals and finals.
Finding a way to rebound from a disappointing loss at Houston with a Hernandez-fueled hat trick allowed the Crew to enter the break with a bit of momentum. It also affirmed something Morris said midfielder Julian Gressel, one of the summer acquisitions who started two of the three games and played the final 23 minutes at Houston, said after the loss to the Dynamo.
“A few of the guys, they felt it in the legs (tonight against Montreal),” Morris said. “Houston was a tough game, but everyone stressed in the locker room, ‘Forget about it. Move on.’ Julian said it perfectly in the locker room after. He said, ‘Great teams don’t lose twice.’ I think that was our mindset moving into this one.”
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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: What will the Columbus Crew do with another two-week break?