Photo by Andrew Katsampes/ISIPhotos.com
By DAN KARELL
There weren’t any flashy goals scored or inch-perfect assists created, but Columbus Crew midfielder Wil Trapp put together a promising rookie season.
Though he only played 16 times, Trapp stepped right into the Crew’s starting lineup on July 7 against the Portland Timbers and not only never lost his place in the lineup, but proved to be adept at keeping possession in central midfield.
The 20-year-old homegrown player signing had only just returned from captaining the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team at the 2013 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Turkey, and Trapp cites his experience there, though unsuccessful, in preparing him for Major League Soccer competition.
“I think the competition we played against at the World Cup, guys like Paul Pogba (France), Gerard Deulofeu, Jese Rodriguez (both of Spain), guys who play for big clubs in Europe and play significant minutes, anytime you get to go against guys like that, it’s a huge learning experience and you get to see the caliber that it is overseas,” Trapp told SBI in a phone interview.
“I think that speed of play and that overall level transitioned well for me coming back because I hadn’t gotten many games in MLS. The games we played in the World Cup were very comparable to the MLS games, so transitioning right into my first start, it was just like the games I had been playing in Turkey.”
That experience helps explain why in his rookie year Trapp looked so calm in central midfield, playing with and against players with much more experience. According to statistics from Opta, Trapp completed 50 or more passes in five different matches and had a passing completion rate of 81.5 percent over the course of the season.
An argument can be made that Trapp’s best game came against the eventual Supporters’ Shield winner, the New York Red Bulls. In that match, the 20-year-old Gahanna, Ohio native completed 61 passes, picked off seven passes from the Red Bulls, and provided a great long-ball that found teammate Federico Higuain in space behind the backline, ending up as the Crew’s second goal of the match in their 2-0 victory.
Though Trapp couldn’t help lift his side into a playoff spot, his performances have him feeling positive as he heads into his first offseason.
“It was disappointing not to make the playoffs, we just dropped some points here and there that really (decided) our season,” Trapp said. “For myself personally, it was great to be able to come in and contribute in the second half of the season.
“I don’t really like to read too much into the (rookie excuses). It’s still the same game, it’s still 90 minutes, there’s still 22 guys on the field, eleven guys on your team so there’s not too many excuses to make. I thought I had a few good games but I also had a lot of games where I made mistakes and can learn from (them).”
Heading into the 2014 season, the Crew are going through a rebuilding process not just in terms of the product on the field but in the back room staff as well. The Crew are on their third head coach in the last five months, but former U.S. Men’s National Team defender Gregg Berhalter has been handed the reigns and is busy constructing his squad and working with the current players to improve for next season.
Aside from impressing Precourt and the front office before he was hired as the team’s head coach and sporting director, Berhalter has also impressed Trapp in his short time with the team.
“I’ve met him several times in person (so far),” Trapp said. “I’m very excited for him actually, I think he’ll be great for the club. (He’s) young and energetic. He’s what I like to call a ‘soccer junkie’, he’s always watching the game, he’s always learning new things and trying to implement them and grow. That’s huge when you’re a head coach and that’s what your players want to see.”
Trapp originally was planning to remain in Columbus during the winter, but Berhalter used his contacts abroad to set up a two-week training stint with Netherlands club PEC Zwolle. PEC currently sit in 10th place in the 18-team Dutch Eredivisie, though they’re winless in their last five.
“Wil was anxious to continue his development as a player. He’s not a guy that’s happy standing still and being stagnant, and he wanted this experience to train abroad and keep improving,” Berhalter told the Crew’s official website. “A natural fit for him is Holland. It’s a league with a lot of young players that is known for development, and in Zwolle we are sending him to a club that has clear-cut style of play, tradition and a track record for developing quality players.”
The American youngster confessed that it would be a dream to play in Europe someday, but that his focus is currently on his present situation, with a full season in MLS looming ahead. When Trapp returns from the Netherlands, he’ll have to prove himself again for a new coach to prove that he belongs on the field as a starter for each match.
With Konrad Warzycha and Danny O’Rourke gone, it’s likely that the Crew will bring in a number of new central midfielders to try out this preseason. However, the challenge at hand is one that Trapp is looking forward to.
“I think I ended the year pretty well,” said Trapp. “In the back of my mind I want to say yes (that I will start next season), but you never know. It’s a new coach and you’ve got new players coming in and guys vying for spots so you can’t guarantee anything. I’m going to work as hard as I always do and nothing’s different just because I played a bunch of games last year.
“I’m just going to try my best and hopefully my best will put me on the field.”