This profile was originally published on Scouted, the number one resource for analysis on young players and obscure talents
His upbringing in Ohio
Wil Trapp was born and raised in suburban Columbus and attended his local high school, Gahanna Lincoln, where he excelled both on the soccer field and in the classroom. Academically, he graduated in the top five percent of his senior class with a cumulative GPA of 3.9, majoring in Biology, and was also a member of the National Honor Society. On the pitch, Trapp captured Gahanna’s first ever national championship, dispatching the winning spot-kick in a shootout victory over St. Ignatius – the widely regarded number one team in the country – at the most fitting of venues, Crew Stadium, in 2009. Top Drawer Soccer ranked him as a five-star recruit and his efforts in 2010 were rewarded with the NSCAA National High School Player of the Year award, while the love garnered in his hometown after converting the decisive penalty requires no elaboration.
Trapp played in the Crew’s youth system while in high school as captain of the under-16 side, and later the under-18 age group. Receiving the academy’s player of the year award in 2009 and in 2010, he stood out as one of the premium talents in the state and collegiate interest in his services soared shortly thereafter. Trapp elected to accept a scholarship offer from the University of Akron upon graduation and continued to grow under the tutelage of current Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter in a starting eleven that also boasted Spurs right-back DeAndre Yedlin. It was Porter who introduced him to the holding midfield role after having assumed a more advanced position prior to college and from day one he adapted to his newfound duties seamlessly. In a Zips outfit renowned for an energetic engine-room with lethal efficiency in possession, he delivered on the lofty expectations his success in Gahanna had promised, impressing as a freshman and as a sophomore. However, with Porter filling the managerial vacancy in Portland, he opted to forego his final two years of eligibility and consider the professional options at his disposal.
Columbus Crew SC
The Crew harboured heavy interest in securing the return of their former product and ultimately managed to secure his signature on a homegrown contract, reportedly fending off the promise land of Europe to do so. Robert Warzycha was at the helm for the 22-year-old’s first year in MLS, but failed to harness the best out of him in the twelve months he spent as his coach, eventually making way for former LA Galaxy assistant Gregg Berhalter at the conclusion of the 2013 campaign. Warzycha was maligned towards the latter stages of his tenure for a lack of innovation tactically and this was obviously a detriment to Trapp’s game, but such issues that had previously stunted his growth were remedied instantly by Berhalter’s arrival. He was utilised exclusively as the link between the defence and the midfield throughout his first term under the 41-year-old and all parties have reaped many rewards from that decision since. It’s not too common for a player as young as he is to be entrusted with such responsibility in front of the back-line and that in itself speaks volumes for how advanced he is so early into his career.
In 2014, with a new boss on the sidelines, Trapp experienced a meteoric rise from talented prospect to one of the elite holding midfielders in the league, fulling a role with characteristics similar to that of his position with the Zips. Columbus finished the regular season with the Eastern Conference’s third best record and, though defeated by the New England Revolution in the postseason, were among the most acclaimed teams in the States for their aesthetically pleasing blend of attack-minded football. Trapp played an integral part in what was achieved last year and heads into 2015 with much the same influence on proceedings, fresh from a fruitful offseason in which he earned his first cap for the national team. In a weakened conference, devoid of the overwhelming competition existing within its counterpart at the moment, there is tremendous opportunity for Trapp and Berhalter to propel Crew SC back to the top of the standings and even deeper into the MLS Cup playoffs.
While Gedion Zelalem, Julian Green and Rubio Rubin have every chance of leading the next generation of American talents into unprecedented glory over coming years, it’s perhaps Trapp who has the least obstructed avenue into Jürgen Klinsmann’s line-up. Kyle Beckerman, Real Salt Lake’s talismanic metronome, starred at last summer’s World Cup as the standout defensive midfielder, but at the age of 32 – 36 when Russia hosts the tournament – his time as a starter is nearing a conclusion. There is no reason for fans to be worried though, with Trapp more than equipped to fill the void whenever it’s there to be filled that particular spot is set for the next decade. Moreover, Wil received the armband for the US at the U20 World Cup for the meeting with Paul Pogba’s France, and with his leadership instrumental to Columbus in MLS he could be identified as a possible candidate to become the senior team’s captain someday. The forecast for this relationship appears incredibly bright and 2018 certainly warrants high anticipation.
Klinsmann handed Trapp his debut in the 3-2 defeat to Chile in January, and while he considers the experience one of education there were some questions asked of how the German chose to use him over his thirty minute cameo. Shortly after the system was altered from the 3-5-2 formation, Wil replaced Mix Diskerud and was deployed on the left side of the 4-4-2 diamond, unable to replicate his deep-lying form and so much a spectator as a substitute from the periphery of familiar surroundings. Although the minutes will be of great benefit to his development, it appeared a waste of time from Klinsmann’s point of view to select him and not even attempt to form an understanding of what this starlet could offer to future squads and line-ups. Even in practice, where the circumstances are arguably less mitigating than in games, Trapp claims that he never had a conversation with the former Bayern forward about his positioning or where he was going to be stationed. Puzzling, but with the Gold Cup coming up in the summer and the Olympics a year later one can certainly expect more chances for him to establish himself, and obtain a clearer evaluation from the 50-year-old, in the area he so often occupies with complete assertion.
There’s a unique maturity to Trapp’s character that will put him in good stead for the immediate and long-term future. Even at 22 his presence demands respect within the locker room, so the media’s surprise was not shared by the Crew’s roster when Berhalter named him vice-captain to Michael Parkhurst in preseason of last year, only six months after making his professional debut. “He has great leadership qualities. Even though he’s one of the younger guys on the team, people respect him. He’s a good player, he’s a tireless worker, so he’s a guy who’s going to push people forward,” remarked the former Crystal Palace defender after announcing the appointment. Trapp made his first appearance wearing the armband in a 3-3 draw with the Timbers and at 21 years and 122 days old, became the youngest skipper in MLS history. Twelve months before accomplishing that feat, Wil hadn’t yet played a single minute for the Crew’s first team, further testament to the value of patience for young players.
An internal confidence, not easily honed, is required for this sort of quality, a natural intangible that has separated Trapp from as far back as his days at Gahanna Lincoln. He’s level-headed and has not let his emergence affect his ego, much of that translating from his hunger to better himself every day he goes to work. He is his own biggest critic and is always keen to shift the spotlight to his team-mates following an especially impactful outing, and when there is feedback to be given he takes it into account and strives to materialise the desired improvement as soon as possible. Thierry Henry waxed lyrically about the humble kid from Ohio following his side’s 3-1 defeat at the hands of the Crew last campaign, labelling Trapp ‘the key’ to RBNY’s downfall. Wil’s response, while admitting that hearing this praise gave him goosebumps, was typically to highlight how well the whole team had performed. European interest is almost ensured and from the perspective of potential suitors from across the pond this mentality should be as attractive as his pin-point passing, his calculated reading of the game and his immaculately timed tackling.
Trapp is the perfect conductor when his side are subjected to high amounts of pressure, exuding composure by acknowledging the context of matches and altering the tempo in correlation. He has become somewhat well known for how he drops in between the centre-backs, collects possession and subsequently distributes the ball into the attack with surgical precision. Last season, Wil averaged more passes per game than any other player in the league with 66.4 and his 86.8% success rate ranked within the top ten too. As per Tempo-Free Soccer, through the first four months of the 2014 regular season, Trapp averaged an incredible 9.8 passes of 25 yards or more in distance per game, with 86% of those attempts meeting their desired target. It’s important to account for direction when evaluating those numbers, for the vast majority of these balls were played laterally as opposed to directly forwards. This is largely achieved through switching the play, an art he has come to master as he’s grown older, and is of huge use to the Crew in many situations.
I haven’t touched on Trapp’s defensive intelligence in this profile, however that facet of his immensely skilled repertoire merits the same recognition as the rest of his stronger aspects. Few in North America can beat him at formulating the solution to attacking momentum, regularly reversing the impetus of his opposition going forward into meticulously thought out transition and he does so to a consistently profitable outcome. Vancouver’s Matías Laba was the only midfielder to average more interceptions per game than Wil’s 2.3, all the more commendable when he has Tony Tchani to share part of that workload. His accurate passing is even more effective when coupled with his crucial interventions, immediately looking to distribute the ball after turning over possession he’s able to maximise the chances to counter-attack. Looking at the numbers again, where tackling is concerned, Trapp’s average of 3 per game also puts him among the very best in his field, short of only Laba, Diego Chara and Ossie Alonso in 2014. He’s very much disciplined with regards to decision-making and rarely puts those around him in jeopardy as a result, yielding further adoration from the players dependant on his protection.
Forecast for the future
When assessing the forecast for most prodigies there’s usually a degree of uncertainty, however that doesn’t really apply to Trapp. He doesn’t face any obstacles off the field to speak of, he has already ascended to a status of considerable power in Columbus, and has now managed to make the imperative breakthrough into the USMNT set-up elusive to so many. Injuries have not yet come to hinder his progress either, a factor that shouldn’t be understated, and there’s no evident weakness which may derail that growth. To put it simply, Wil is blessed with a clear route to realising his full potential, and for someone who has operated without flaw since high school, like clockwork, that’s frightening food for thought for the rest of the league to consume.
He will be forced to make some very tough choices in the future though, a decorated spell in Europe certainly lies ahead if he intends to pursue it, however, for the time being, there’s much left to achieve at Crew Stadium. He has the ideal coach in Gregg Berhalter, his friends and family reside in very close proximity, and the Black and Gold faithful are in love with what he brings to the team; the optimal environment you could suggest. It’s for that reason why you shouldn’t be too shocked to see Trapp collect numerous accolades leading his club, and later country, out into battle further down the line.