Red Bulls star Lewis Morgan made Scotland’s Euro 2024 roster against all odds: How far can the Tartan Army go?

Lewis Morgan Red Bulls
Lewis Morgan (Photo courtesy of the New York Red Bulls)

The Scottish national team had been the furthest thing from Lewis Morgan’s mind all winter.

Completing his recovery from a debilitating hip injury that limited his 2023 season to just five matches, the Scottish winger turned forward’s focus was recapturing the form from two years ago when he led the New York Red Bulls with 18 goals in all competitions. After all, the former Celtic and Sunderland man had not been called up to a Scotland camp since 2019 and had not appeared in a match since 2018.

In fact, when I spoke with him in February shortly before the start of a new Major League Soccer season and four months before the start of the 2024 European Championships — for which Scotland qualified for just the fourth time ever — I asked him about one day, potentially, representing his home nation once again. It was a question met with understandable pessimism considering national team manager Steve Clarke had not chosen players from MLS for his sides. It had also been six years since he wore the Scotland shirt, but his love and respect for the Tartan Army shone through entirely.

“Representing your country is the best thing in sports but I’m also a realistic person. For whatever reason, we’ve gotten a number of players in [MLS] who have done very well and can contribute to the Scottish national team but the reality is, the manager hasn’t called up players in this league. It’s no secret and it’s totally his prerogative, so I’m not sitting here saying that we should be getting called up. But I think Steve Clarke has done an amazing job. The levels he’s taken the national team to have been amazing. I love watching their games…

“I think the reality is we sort of know that it’s probably not going to happen and that’s fine. There’s more to football than that. That’s the two best moments of my career was playing for Scotland. I would love for nothing more to make it to the point where it’s undeniable that I want to be on that squad. That’s still my goal… but it’s probably going to be hard. But nothing is impossible.”

Put this down as a perfect example to show your children about never giving up. 

A healthy Morgan got off to a blistering start with the Red Bulls in 2024, scoring nine goals in 16 matches to lead the charge for a squad that also features Swedish superstar Emil Forsberg. Still, as recent as two weeks ago, Morgan’s name was nowhere near Clarke’s perspective 26-man roster for Euro 2024, which kicks off Friday in Germany when Scotland takes part in the opening match against the powerhouse hosts.

Sometimes, though, it is just as advantageous for one to be as lucky as he can be skilled — though it comes at the expense of others. Scotland was hit hard by the injury bug in the run-up to the start of the Euros with forwards Ben Doak and Lyndon Dykes forced to miss the tournament.

Tommy Conway of Bristol City in England replaced Dykes and, seemingly out of the blue, Morgan got the call from Clarke to replace Doak.

“Lewis replaces Ben Doak who is a winger. I never go like for like, they have different qualities,” Clarke said of his decision (h/t Sky Sports). “I don’t tend to pick wingers, but Lewis can do that. He also has adapted his game and can play as a striker or a second striker. He’s got a few strings to his bow.

“Lewis has been in my squads before when he was here with Celtic and St Mirren so I know the player, I know the character, I know the person which is always a help. You look at what’s your next best option and Lewis and Tommy (Conway) were the obvious candidates.”

Lewis Morgan New York Red Bulls
Lewis Morgan (Photo courtesy of the New York Red Bulls)

The 27-year-old Morgan is not expected to be featured in Scotland’s starting lineup, which will likely line up in a 5-4-1 formation. That means there will be one lone striker up front and four midfielders (two wingers). While Morgan has spent time this season up front as a striker, Clarke tipped his hand in utilizing the Red Bulls star as a winger during Friday’s friendly against Finland. He came on as a sub in the 79th minute for right-winger Ryan Christie. 

In Group A at Euro 2024, Scotland’s chances of advancing past the group stage appear slim, at least on the surface. They have never progressed beyond the group stage at a major tournament and are the lowest-ranked team in the foursome by FIFA (39th) which also includes No. 16 Germany, No. 19 Switzerland, and No. 26 Hungary.

But this is a roster that has high-quality players, most notably midfielder Scott McTominay of Manchester United and defender Andy Robertson of Liverpool. They finished just four points behind Spain in Group A of Euro 2024 qualifying, finishing second in a group of five ahead of the likes of Georgia (who qualified for the tournament via the play-offs) and Norway — a side that boasts one of the greatest strikers on the planet right now in Manchester City’s Erling Haaland. 

The objective, at least for Clarke, is simple: Get four points out of three matches, which means Scotland would need a win and a draw.

“The bottom line is we need four points to come out the group, that guarantees that you’ll come out of the group almost forever,” Clarke told BBC Sport. “That always happens. Three points and a zero goal difference would probably get out of the group so that’s what we have to look at — every game in isolation, make sure that we’re competitive in every game and realistically you go into the last game with a chance to qualify… We play against Hungary in the last game, that’s where we want to be – in a similar situation where we know we can get a result and we can qualify.”

For more on Lewis Morgan, the New York Red Bulls, and Euro 2024, visit AMNY.com