Did someone say "American Pirlo"?
San Jose Earthquakes and rising US men's national team regular Jackson Yueill was asked whether his deep-lying central midfield playmaking role with the USA carried any parallels to how Italian maestro Andrea Pirlo played the position.
I'm a card-carrying Yueill stan — you can check the tweets — but as uncomfortable as I generally am with comparing players this way, the overwhelming evidence points to Wil Trapp as the closest thing to L'Architetto that US soccer has seen lately.
Tempo-setting vision from deep, exquisite passing range, high soccer IQ clicking away inside a somewhat waifish frame… and defensive limitations somehow rendered almost romantic by a whiff of throwback charm. It’s unfair to hold up anyone to a unique and generational talent like Pirlo; that said, the Italian world champ’s career might just offer some hints for Trapp as he leaves his hometown for a whole new journey in south Florida.
Pirlo spent many of his best days, for both club and country, accompanied by enforcers and terriers like Gennaro Gattuso — the one briefly rumored to be a Miami coaching candidate; small world, eh? — and Massimo Ambrosini. Despite his frailties, astute minds like Carlo Ancelotti deemed the regista’s genius not only worth compromising on, but building an entire team around.
Consider, then, the iconic praise heaped upon Trapp early in his career by none other than Thierry Henry. Trapp led Columbus Crew SC to the MLS Cup final in his second full season as a starter, showcasing attributes rare in American soccer and charming the home faithful along the way. How could they not fall for a humble Gahanna kid who donned a “Save the Crew” captain’s armband and made a tradition of embracing his nonagenarian grandfather before every home game?
Wil Trapp hugs his grandfather before MLS Cup 2015 | Photo by Pablo Maurer
The Homegrown also appeared primed for even bigger and better things, especially once he obtained a Greek passport (useful for facilitating potential European moves) and saw his club coach, Gregg Berhalter, move up to the US national team job — and bring Trapp with him. Crew SC’s reported rejection of a $1.25 million transfer bid from Blackburn Rovers in 2018 speaks to his club’s bullishness about a potential cash-in, too, though he’s now entering the final year of his current contract.
But even after nine USMNT caps last year (he has 20 total), the jury remains out as to whether he’s a bona fide international starter. He made just one US appearance in the last six months of 2019, and it was a rough one: the 3-0 friendly loss to Mexico in which El Tri savagely hijacked the methodical Berhalter buildouts that Trapp personifies. This is from the 3-0 friendly loss to Venezuela in June:
And it’s become less obvious where he fits in under Caleb Porter as Columbus’ coach shapes the squad to his liking. While it’s only one set of data points, Trapp’s profile on WhoScored suggests a certain stagnation in recent seasons.
The move to Miami — for a package of allocation money that looks modest relative to his top form — might not be exactly what either Trapp or Crew had in mind for his next move. Yet it could also provide the jolt his career needs at this potentially key juncture, especially if his acquisition heralds a stylistic kinship with his new boss Diego Alonso.
Maybe Christian Makoun or Victor Ulloa can be Trapp’s tropical Gattuso. Maybe he’s the force multiplier who can maximize that front-foot Inter attack we’ve been told is in the offing. Though the expansion experience can be a trying and unsteady one, this is a chance Wil Trapp needs to take.