Over seven seasons at the University of Akron, head coach Caleb Porter built a machine. During his final two before departing for Major League Soccer, Porter's midfield lynchpin wasn't an upperclassman, but a kid who would spend two seasons on campus turning heads, winning individual awards and team trophies before also heading to MLS.
It was a local kid, born and bred in Ohio, the 2010 NSCAA National High School Player of the Year. Together, the pair won two regular season MAC titles as well as one MAC Tournament title, with two NCAA Tournament bids over those two memorable years.
Now, Porter and former Akron standout Wil Trapp have reunited in Ohio once again as Porter inherits a Crew side led by that familiar face.
“For me, it should be an easy transition," Trapp told MLSsoccer.com. "Our previous relationship allows for us to hit the ground running with new concepts being implemented and the understanding of who I am, who he is and building upon that relationship and how it can permeate through the group.”
After two seasons at Akron, Trapp signed a Homegrown deal with the Crew. Over six seasons, the 26-year-old has been a mainstay with the club, making 157 appearances and wearing the captain's armband.
Meanwhile, Porter departed the Zips that same offseason, taking charge of the Portland Timbers. He shifted tactically from a death-by-1,000-passes ethos at Akron to a more combative, pragmatic side in Portland. He won with both styles, as Porter led the Timbers to a 2015 MLS Cup triumph over Trapp and the Crew in Columbus.
As Porter returns to Ohio, his possession-based system may return with him. But Trapp thinks it'll be the best of both worlds.
“He certainly looked at the qualities of the group and what will be the best predisposition for this team," Trapp said. "Blending his style from Portland, the high pressure and aggressive mentality, with what we’ve done well for the past years with possession and buildup. It’s more of a total perspective. He’s done a good job of relaying that message to us and for us to understand it, run with it."
During the off-field turmoil surrounding the Crew in 2018, Trapp tried to keep his head down and let the process play out. Now that the Crew are officially remaining in Columbus, Trapp couldn't be happier.
“It’s amazing," Trapp said. "Just clearing out that dark cloud sitting over us is really the biggest weight off our shoulders. As players we can just focus on performing and playing. I think we still did a great job last year with it, but the future now set in stone is a good thing for all of us. It’s a calming thing, you’re not worried if your family has to move, where we’re going to be playing."
Focusing on playing soccer, Trapp wants to hoist a trophy in front of the Columbus faithful, citing it without hesitation his goal for 2019.
"I know it’s difficult because there’s only a few trophies to be won each year, but the important thing for us it to build on what we’ve had in the past and take another step forward," Trapp said. "For me, last year was a good year. Getting national team experience, playing a lot of games at the club level – But now can you continue to be consistent and even better?”
Could getting 'even better' include perhaps scoring a few more goals this season?
Well, Trapp scored once last season but it was a memorable one, a wonderstrike from distance in stoppage time to beat Orlando City SC. The shot blurred past then-OCSC keeper Joe Bendik, who joined the Crew this offseason.
“Ha!" Trapp laughed off the idea of scoring too many more goals in 2019. "Well, it’s interesting because the only goals I score in training seem to be against Joe Bendik. We’ll see."
Have the pair chatted about Trapp's game-winner from last season?
“You know what, I haven’t brought it up to him at all," Trapp said. "It’s something that’s allowed to just ebb away. Some of the other goalies always laugh about it, though, when we’re doing a finishing drill and the ball goes in against Joe from me.”
Before Trapp joined Bendik as his Crew teammates for preseason, he was called into the US national team January camp by former Crew boss Gregg Berhalter. He hopes to make Berhalter's first competitive roster, as the national team gears up for the Concacaf Gold Cup this summer.
"What Gregg does so well is his attention to detail and his ability to be a teacher," Trapp said. "He’s so good at conveying culture, message and details to his players. I think everybody in that camp was very impressed at how prepared we were stepping into the games and the execution on the field. Knowing him for five years, I expected those things, but it’s a different level."