The Major League Soccer regular season begins on Friday and Columbus Crew SC’s 2017 season begins Saturday afternoon. The Black & Gold are putting in final preparations before opening kick, but fans are still waiting on official word on two key pieces.
Following last year’s disappointment, sporting director and head coach Gregg Berhalter made several changes to his team. This included trading club captain Michael Parkhurst to Atlanta United for General Allocation Money.
Vice captain Wil Trapp returns, but Berhalter was not ready to simply hand the 24-year old midfielder the armband.
“Wil has demonstrated leadership in the past and we’re going to need leadership coming from more than just Wil, that’s clear,” Berhalter said in early February. “I think that when you build a team and you want to have a strong team, you need leadership in different areas. So we’re certainly going to need that and we’re open to that. We’re waiting to see and we’re evaluating who’s stepping up and who fits that role.”
Throughout the preseason, Berhalter rotated his captain. During the Carolina Challenge Cup, winger Justin Meram, wingback Harrison Afful and defender Josh Williams wore the armband before Trapp was the captain for the final preseason game against the Seattle Sounders.
Trapp served under Parkhurst for the first three years of Berhalter’s tenure and, as a Homegrown product, has grown into the face of the club. He admitted that being captain of his local team is something he would like, but he’s not going to change his approach to earn that title.
“The biggest thing with becoming a captain or moving into that role is don’t be anything that you’re not,” Trapp told Massive Report. “Don’t try to do too much. Be your authentic self and let that speak. So if you’re a lead-by-example guy, be a lead-by-example guy. If you’re a yeller and screamer, be that type of a guy. But know that in a new group, you have to be supportive.”
While Trapp seems like a shoe in for the role — he’s already a leader on the field for this team — Berhalter was still not ready to name a captain on Tuesday.
“We’ll work through it,” he said when asked how close he is to making a decision. “I think we’ll get there by the end of the week, but we’re pretty close. It’s pretty clear what we’re going to do. I think there’s a number of good candidates and we’ll make a good decision.”
Another looming decision for Berhalter and Crew SC is who will be the starting goalkeeper.
Over the last three season, Steve Clark was the No. 1 options between the posts. The Michigan native played every minute of MLS play over his first two seasons and only stepped aside late last year for two games when Columbus was eliminated from postseason contention.
The Black & Gold did not pick up the option on Clark’s contract after the season leaving youthful netminders Brad Stuver, who started those two games at the end of 2016, and Zack Steffen to battle for the position.
Crew SC also drafted Logan Ketterer out of Bradley University, but did not bring in a veteran in the offseason.
Throughout the preseason, Berhalter has praised the work of all three keepers, but continues to avoid a final decision on who is his stater.
“We’re getting there,” he said on Tuesday. “Between all three of them, they’ve worked really hard in the preseason. They’ve been pushing each other and we’ll be able to name a starter by the end of the week.”
In the Carolina Cup, Steffen played five of the six halves, allowing one goal. Stuver saw time in the first half of the second game against the Charleston Battery, also allowing a goal. Ketterer did not see any game action.
Based on Berhalter’s decision to play Steffen the majority of the time, and the full game in the final contest with most of the first-team players, it appears he will be named the starter, but the head coach is not yet ready to make that decision.
With the season beginning in just two days, fans await announcements on both decisions as the excitement builds for the start of 2017.