Usually "defensive midfielder" applies to one or two players on the field, likely playing in the center, but under Columbus Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter, the roles are different.
Throughout the season, Berhalter discussed the need for team defense. It wasn't just the four-man back line and the goalkeeper that did the defending, but everyone as soon as the opponent gained possession of the ball.
The players in the midfield were asked to do a lot when it came to the defensive side this year, beginning with Wil Trapp.
A lot was placed on the second-year professional's shoulders in Berhalter's system. It was evident from the first game that Trapp wouldn't be asked to just hold up the opponent's attack in the midfield as he was the year before, but he would literally be the link between the defense and the midfield.
Trapp adjusted to his role quickly, dropping into the defense when the outside backs went forward and working his way up when necessary. Alongside him was Tony Tchani, who took some time to settle in but once he did, the 6'4", 185-pounder began to establish himself as one of the league's top midfielders.
Both players did well throughout the season, winning balls or slowing down the attack. While Clark and the back line received credit for limiting teams' offenses, the midfield deserved some of limelight as well. At points in the season, it was hard to get through the middle of Columbus' formation because of how well Trapp and Tchani closed things down.
As the season progressed, Trapp missed time through suspensions and injuries and it became apparent to those that couldn't already tell how important he was to the team. While Agustin Viana, Daniel Paladini, and Kevan George did serviceably while filling in for Trapp, or Tchani the one game he missed, none of them controlled things as well as the starters.
The outside midfielders contributed as well, but weren't as imperative towards defending. Their roles required chemistry with the outside backs and an understanding of who had to cover for whom when a player made a run, forward or otherwise. This chemistry didn't occur right away but developed as the team found a consistent lineup that produce the desired results.
Both Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram are former forwards who now earn their keep on the outside of the Crew's midfield. While both had career years in terms of offensive statistics, both developed on the defensive side as well. More than once these two, along with other teammates, remained after training, working on defensive positioning with one of their coaches.
Bernardo Anor and Hector Jimenez had a more natural approach to the defensive side of the ball. Both have spent most of their careers on the outside and both have experience playing as a defender - in fact both played along the back line for the Black and Gold in 2014.
Although their main focus was to add to the attack, the outside midfielders worked hard to provide cover when necessary. This was one of the more developed areas of the team by season's end, helping not only to spark the offense, but prevent the opponent from doing the same along the touch line, going up against the likes of Lloyd Sam, Landon Donovan, and Brad Davis over the final third of the campaign.
Final Grade: A-
At the beginning of the season, this would not have been the predicted grade. Trapp had done well in his first year, but still had a lot to prove. Tchani had acquired the reputation of a bust after being taken second overall by the New York Red Bulls in 2010 and never materializing. The outside midfielders were either yet to prove themselves or thought of as mainly attackers.
By the year's end, this was a strength of the team. The Crew's midfield bossed around their counterparts, including ones with higher salaries and bigger names. Like the rest of the team, the midfield failed to produce the same level of defensive intensity in the playoffs against the New England Revolution, but was strong otherwise.
The one knock on this unit is the lack of depth in the middle of the park, but that is something Berhalter and his staff have already begun addressing this offseason.