Upon returning from last year's FIFA U-20 World Cup, where he played every minute for the US national team, Wil Trapp stepped right into a key role in the Columbus Crew's midfield.
He held onto that spot for the rest of 2013, and his early-season performances in 2014 have, if anything, tightened his grip on that starting job. It hasn't been lost on Columbus fans how important he has been to his team's succes, and as the Crew have climbed to the top of the standings, Trapp has blossomed into one of the most promising young players in MLS today.
In a mediocre 2013, the Crew played better with the inclusion of Trapp into the lineup. Their possession percentage jumped from 48 percent to 51 percent with their passing accuracy moving from 67.8 pecent to 70.7 percent when he was on the field. After Trapp's first start for Columbus on July 7 last year, when the Crew ended the Portland Timbers' 15-game unbeatean streak with a 1-0 win, they posted a 10-9-0 record. Without Trapp in the first half of the season, Columbus went 5-8-5.
While this improvement can't be completely attributed to one player – Trapp's nice, but Federico Higuaín stepped up his game in the second half of 2013, right? – there is little question the Homegrown player played a role.
Now, with the introduction of head coach Gregg Berhalter's exciting, possession-based system, Trapp's measurables are worth revisiting. Columbus currently lead MLS in possession, passing accuracy and passing accuracy in the final third. In fact, the Crew lead by a wide margin in both passing accuracy benchmarks, more than 3 and 4 percent, respectively.
Trapp has contributed greatly to these figures. He makes 76.7 passes per game on average, most in MLS and a huge increase from last year when he only attempted 50.8 passes per game. And he’s not just attempting a lot of passes, he’s completing them at a high rate.
Of players with at least 100 passes, Trapp has the fourth-highest completion percentage at 88.3 percent. Soccer fans would call a lot of these passes "simple," but that is still not a number to sneeze at.
Berhalter’s new system, which Will Parchman at TopDrawerSoccer.com explained very well on Monday, has allowed Trapp to shine this season. He has been given a different role from last year, and he has flourished.
When fellow central midfielder Tony Tchani and Trapp started the last six games of the Crew’s 2013 season together, they operated on the pulley system, with one going forward and the other picking up defensive responsibilities. They shared both loads relatively equally. This year that has changed.
Looking at the average positions of Trapp (No. 20), Tchani (6) and Higuaín (10) in very different circumstances can help illustrate the roles they are asked to play. Below are the average positions of the three in the last 20 minutes against Seattle, when they were dominating possession, and the last 25 minutes against Philadelphia, when they had very little of it.
Crew vs. Seattle, Minutes 70-90
Crew vs. Philadelphia, Minutes 65-90
Trapp is now playing as more of a true d-mid. When in possession, his "simple" passes have a primary function of starting his team’s attacks. They have also come from a rather deep position, as he often plays balls from in between his two centerbacks. In fact he has attempted 14.3 of his 76.7 passes per game in the defensive third, a nine-pass increase over last season.
Tchani, meanwhile, pushes forward not as an attacking midfielder, but as a box-to-box option on both sides of the ball.
Defensively, however, they often operate on the same axis. In these cases Trapp sits next to Tchani while Higuaín pushes forward to apply some pressure to the ball. Berhalter's masterstroke thus far has been getting the three of them to act in concert.
In Trapp's short time in MLS, the player Crew fans know as “The Franchise” has shown massive amounts of potential, and is now matching productivity to expectations. Expect him to be near the top of MLSsoccer.com's 24 Under 24 rankings after missing out last year.
And expect him to join fellow US U-20 veterans Luis Gil and DeAndre Yedlin in Jurgen Klinsmann's plans sooner rather than later. A trip to Brazil is probably out of the question, but feel free to be shocked if Trapp isn't in the first post-World Cup camp.