Aaron Horton didn’t have to wait until Thursday to celebrate his 19th birthday.
That’s because on Tuesday, the Columbus Crew announced the signing of their first Home Grown player after inking the former University of Louisville forward to a multi-year deal.
“I grew up here and watched the Crew since I was real little,” Horton said. “It’s a dream come true.”
Horton's family moved from Connecticut to just north of Columbus, in Lewis Center, when he was four. He was all-Ohio as senior at Olentangy Orange High School and attended the Crew Soccer Academy.
“That’s why it’s even more special that I’m here in Columbus,” Horton said. “It’s a great place. I love it here. Now to play in front of my family and friends, I couldn’t expect much more.”
To say he was a Crew fan as a kid is an understatement. Horton watched current coach Robert Warzycha play for Columbus in Ohio Stadium and was in the stands for the opening match of Crew Stadium in May 1999. Back then, he also followed the career of midfielder Brian Maisonneuve, who was his US Under-17 assistant coach, and his favorite player was Jeff Cunningham, now a teammate.
“I brought [Cunningham] into my fourth grade class as a show-and-tell thing,” Horton said. “I was just thrilled. Now I’m playing here with him. I think it’s hilarious.”
Warzycha thinks Horton’s familiarity with the Crew will help him make a quick adjustment to the pro game.
“Maybe he feels better because he saw me play,” Warzycha said. “I’m one of the old Crew players. Maybe that relationship will be better than somebody he doesn’t know.”
Horton appeared in 23 games for Louisville and had three goals and two assists in his lone season. He was instrumental in helping the Cardinals reach the 2010 College Cup final before losing to Akron. He scored winners in the final minute of the 5-4 quarterfinal victory over UCLA and the 2-1 semifinal result against North Carolina.
“It was a tough decision,” Horton said about turning pro. “I felt I had done everything I could as a youth player. I need to keep developing. This was a perfect opportunity — I couldn’t turn it down.”
Warzycha said Horton can benefit from the virtually year-round training even though he is not likely to see much game action this year outside the limited number of MLS Reserve League games.
“He’s a good player, but staying in this environment, practicing every single day and staying with the better players, maybe his talent is going to explode,” the head coach said.
Because Horton was in the Crew’s youth development system for more than a year, he was not subject to the MLS SuperDraft. Each team can sign an unlimited number of Home Grown players.
“MLS in general is making the right steps with the academies and things like the Home Grown,” Horton explained. “It’s helping MLS and helping me as a player entering MLS.”