MLS in Focus: Columbus’ Wil Trapp



This upcoming weekend is a FIFA international date, which means Major League Soccer teams will generally lack their best players. Half the league mercifully has the weekend off, but the teams that play will be shorthanded.

The Columbus Crew know this all too well; eight players will miss this weekend’s game against Dallas due to international duty.

One of those missing players is Wil Trapp who is with the United States U-23 team as they prepare for Olympic qualification. In his third season in MLS, Trapp has established himself as a regular for the Crew. He came up through the club’s academy, and has been one of the brightest spots in Columbus even as they’ve emerged as one of the Eastern Conference’s best teams.

In Gregg Berhalter’s setup, Trapp plays as one of the pair sitting in front of the back four. Tony Tchani provides the muscle in that pairing, and serves as Columbus’ main ball-winner in midfield. Trapp plays as a deep-lying distributor, but does so in a different way than most.

When the Crew win the ball in their own half, Trapp doesn’t push up to start the charge down the field, but instead does the opposite. He scampers back, to insert himself between the two center backs.


This has a couple of practical effects. Firstly, by dropping deep, Trapp makes himself available to distribute the ball from an area where he is both better than the center backs and under less pressure than further up the field. Think of a quarterback operating from the shotgun. It gives Trapp the space and time to play touchdown passes such as this one:


Of course, when opponents do put him under pressure, he has the ability to calmly wriggle free anyway:


Secondly, with Trapp operating as a third center back, the back line operates the way a three/five-man back line would in possession: the fullbacks are pushed forward. Columbus relies a lot on wide play in their attacks, and its fullbacks Hector Jimenez and Waylon Francis have combined for 10 assists this year.


Trapp’s role means he doesn’t pick up too many assists on his own, but when he forays forward, he is capable of unlocking defenses with his passing.


The following is a map of Trapp’s performance on Saturday against NYCFC. I haven’t removed anything, just narrowed it down to what he did in the middle of the field. Those two red arrows were his only incomplete passes of the day in that area. Both were attempts at long passes, so he effectively never gave the ball away in midfield.


That sort of calm play in the center of the field is invaluable for a team, and impressive coming from a 22-year-old.

While Trapp isn’t the flashiest player, the results speak for themselves. When Trapp starts, the Crew are 6-2-3 this season. They are 5-6-5 without him. He missed two and a half months due to a concussion earlier in the year, which was cause for concern not just in Columbus.

Trapp’s return has helped stabilize the Crew after a shaky period without him, and they now find themselves in third place in the East. That’s where they finished last year, but an early playoff exit left a sour taste in their mouths. Trapp and the Crew want the future to be even brighter.

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