None of those veterans are Columbus’s newest captain, though. Instead, the team’s coaching staff put its faith into 24-year-old Wil Trapp to lead the club, making the Gahanna, Ohio native the league’s first full-time Homegrown captain.
For Trapp and his teammates, however, his role is nothing new.
With Michael Parkhurst as the unquestioned leader of the squad for his three years in Columbus, Trapp served as vice-captain, learning the ropes from the veteran as one of the younger players on the field. But the team knew Parkhurst wasn’t the type of leader to yell at the group, so Trapp took over the role of motivational speaker early in his career.
He said he’s often looking for inspiration, and particularly loves the speech that former US Olympic hockey team head coach Herb Brooks, played by Kurt Russell, gives in the movie Miracle.
“I’m always trying to work on my speeches,” he said with a laugh. “Michael was never that guy, so I kind of assumed the role. It [started as] kind of an ‘I’m vice-captain, at least I’m going to do something’ kind of thing.”
That experience has meant that since Trapp’s appointment, there’s been no awkward period of figuring out his leadership style or learning how to motivate his teammates. As winger Justin Meram put it, Trapp was “born into being a leader.”
“There really was no transition,” Meram said. “It was just him being him, and now he’s just wearing the armband. And it’s good to have a vocal leader this year.”
But that doesn’t mean Trapp has no safety net.
Rather than the traditional appointment of his captain, head coach and sporting director Gregg Berhalter had his players vote on a six-man “leadership council” comprised of Trapp, DPs Jonathan Mensah and Federico Higuain, and veterans Meram, Ethan Finlay and Josh Williams.
From that group of six, Berhalter and the coaching staff selected Trapp as the captain, and charged the remaining players with supporting the young captain. After two weeks of MLS play, Berhalter said he’s been happy with what he’s seen from Trapp deserves “a lot of credit.”
Trapp’s leadership council teammates don’t guarantee that he can relate to players who could be up to a decade older than him, but the team’s veterans say Trapp is wise beyond his years. Thirty-year-old defender Harrison Afful, who has captained Ghana and has 12 professional years on his resume, said he supports Trapp “100 percent.”
“To be a captain, you don’t have to be old,” he said. “The captain should be a leader, and I see Wil Trapp as a leader. So for me, age is just a number, whether you’re young or old. … I believe [the coaching staff] made the right choice.”
Trapp says he isn’t trying to change much about his game to fit his new role, though he did delete Twitter and Instagram from his phone to remove some of the off-field distractions, a move his wife, Beth, was a fan of.
He said he’s also a little more willing to yell at a teammate, though he’s trying to be smart about it.
“That comes from trust,” he said. “If the guys don’t trust you, they’re not going to listen to you. A lot of it comes from building the trust and the accountability first so that if you’re in a game and things are going a little crazy, you can yell at a guy and they’ll respond in the right way.”
And while he was once a kid playing youth soccer and making the short trip into Columbus to watch the club he now captains, Trapp isn’t letting his status as the first full-time Homegrown to wear the armband get to him. He has greater goals.
“Every step of my career I haven’t sat and thought about it too long,” he said. “It’s a great experience and I’m humbled by it; it’s wonderful. But it doesn’t matter if you don’t win. At the end of the day, I don’t want to be remembered just for being a Homegrown that was a captain.”