OBETZ, Ohio – After his team went into one of Major League Soccer’s harshest environments and gutted out a dramatic win in a 0-0 (3-1) penalty shootout against Atlanta United, it’s easy to forget that the man leading Columbus Crew SC is just 24.
Wil Trapp, who was named one of the youngest captains in MLS history this season, has spent the year growing into his role.
When he named Trapp his captain, head coach Gregg Berhalter established a “leadership council” of six players, including Trapp, to help establish a support network for the Columbus-area native. He said he wanted to put Trapp “in a situation to develop as a leader.” After several months, Berhalter said Trapp has seized the role.
“[In Atlanta], he brought that group together in a huddle and rallied them,” Berhalter said. “You like to see players taking charge like that. And I don’t know if he would have been as comfortable giving that same message early in the year.”
Trapp said he’s grown as a player and a person this year, and he’s much more comfortable taking on a moment like he did in front of the largest playoff crowd in MLS history on Thursday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“It’s having to be the voice in the huddles, on the field, really assuming that role and trying to inspire guys, especially in front of 67,000 people,” he said. “It’s different, just because of the responsibility. But I like the fact that the responsibility is there.”
Since he signed with Columbus as a 19-year-old Homegrown Player, Trapp has developed his leadership style by watching a couple of mentors along the way.
He’s talked about Federico Higuain’s help in his growth as a player, and said he learned a lot from former captain Michael Parkhurst, who he faced in Thursday’s win. But Parkhurst is known as a quiet, lead-by-example type, rather than one to get vocal.
That, Trapp said, is where he differs most.
“For me, I like to yell; I like to be a little more fiery,” he said with a smile. “When you’re off the field or when you need to talk to a young guy like Artur, who’s never been in this situation before, it’s calming guys down. And then you can pick on the guys you know can take it like Josh Williams or Jonathan Mensah. It’s picking your battles and finding what’s authentic to yourself.”
But a willingness to bark orders can’t help Trapp with his latest leadership test: Helping guide his team through Crew SC’s uncertain future. He admitted last week that he would need to shoulder “the brunt” of the situation and “be a shield for the guys” on the team as they deal with the fallout from news of a potential 2019 move to Austin, Texas.
For star winger Justin Meram, Trapp has fulfilled every expectation during the trying times.
“Throughout all of the stuff that’s been going on is when he’s really kept us tuned in,” Meram said. “To me, that shows his maturity. Even with me, he keeps me in line and confident.”
Trapp helped deflect some of the off-field attention with a quote this week that proved popular among his teammates. He told the Columbus Dispatch that “the league doesn’t want us there,” referring to his team moving on past expansion club Atlanta and into the Eastern Conference Semifinals against New York City FC. Crew SC will host NYCFC in Leg 1 on Tuesday night (8 pm ET | ESPN and ESPN Deportes in USA; TSN, TVAS in Canada).
Trapp admitted the quote played very well in the locker room, and Meram said it was “nice to have our captain kind of stick up for us.”
But for the young captain, the moment was a combination of honesty and targeted motivation for a team that he now feels even more comfortable leading.
“I looked at it more for our group as motivation,” he said. “If people want to make us the underdog, then we assume that role. Let’s just go for it.”