Crew SC Academy products Sebastian Berhalter and Aidan Morris, who both signed Homegrown Player contracts with Crew earlier this year, made their respective First Team debuts on Saturday during the second half of Columbus's 4-0 win over FC Cincinnati.
Berhalter was born in England while his father, former Crew head coach and current U.S. Men's National Team manager, Gregg Berhalter, played at Crystal Palace. The younger Berhalter continued to travel with his family during his father's playing and managerial days in Germany and Sweden.
At the age of 12, Sebastian came to Columbus and played in the Crew SC Academy for six-plus years before attending the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 2019.
When asked about making his professional debut, particularly against Cincinnati, the 19-year-old said "it meant everything."
"Just a chance to play on the field is a lot of kids’ dreams growing up, so to be able to play for this club for six-plus years now and then be able to have my first game against our new rivals, it was really special."
Notably, Sebastian's father was on-site to be able to witness the moment.
Morris signed as a Homegrown Player on Jan. 14, 2020, just three days before Berhalter.
Originally from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Morris played for the Crew SC Academy from 2017-2019, where he made 42 appearances on 39 starts and scored eight goals.
In 2019, Morris went on to attend Caleb Porter's alma mater, Indiana University. During his one-year stint in Bloomington, Ind., the 18-year-old scored two goals and provided eight assists through 21 starts (22 appearances) en route to being named the 2019 Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
Although Morris's family could not attend the matches in his home state, the midfielder said it did feel like home in a sense, especially considering how he grew up playing tournaments where the match took place at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
When asked about his thoughts on making his professional debut, Morris cherished the opportunity to represent the Crew's badge on a professional level after a stint in the academy and collegiate ranks.
"It was awesome. That was my first time really playing FC Cincinnati before and it was awesome I could get out there and represent the crest after three long years in the [Crew SC] Academy, and finally to get out there and be with the professionals in a game that really meant something."
Porter, who signed Keita in early 2019 and witnessed his professional debut later that summer, said Saturday's appearances for Berhalter and Morris were rightly earned.
"I was pleased to give Bouba [Aboubacar Keita] his debut last year as a Homegrown Player from our Club, and I was really excited to give Sebastian and Aidan their debuts today. I don’t give young players their debut unless they’ve earned it, and those two have been working very hard and they earned it. It was a nice moment for them, but also for the Club."
Porter explained how he enjoys working with younger players and helping as they progress in their early careers, and made note of the Crew's development pathway, saying the Club believes in it.
"I do it for the players. I enjoy working with players like Gyasi [Zardes] and Lucas [Zelarayan] because they’re exceptional talent – they’re senior players. But I also love working with younger players and bringing them along and developing them and helping them along and getting them started in their careers. ... We believe in our developmental academy and our developmental pathway, and fortunately, we’re having players come through. Hopefully we’ll have more."
Now on the heels of the Club’s biggest win in over four years, the Crew returns to the field on Thursday, July 16 for a 10:30 p.m. ET match against the New York Red Bulls.
The match is set to be televised nationally on FS1, TUDN and TSN, as well as via stream on the FOX Sports App and the TUDN App.
Following RBNY's 1-0 win over Atlanta on Saturday, both teams currently have three points in Group E. Crew SC leads the standings 4-1 on goal differential.