In preseason, when Columbus Crew SC discussed potentially playing a three-man backline, the questions immediately turned to Federico Higuain.
The Black & Gold’s playmaker seemed to be the odd man out in a potential 3-5-2 formation, but as it turns out, the altered 3-4-2-1 look still has a spot for him.
One player who has made the biggest adjustment is midfielder Wil Trapp.
In Columbus’ more traditional 4-4-1-1 under head coach Gregg Berhalter, Trapp was asked to be the defensive anchor in the midfield, dropping back as a third central defender while in attack, as the fullbacks pushed up the field to provide width.
With three true center backs on the field, Trapp is not asked to be as defensive, allowing him to be a bigger part of the offense.
“Offensively just getting the ball in different positions,” Berhalter said of Trapp’s different role. “Instead of just dictating the rhythm of the game, I think he’s more of a person who is required to switch the field, to be kind of an engine in there in terms of ball circulation.”
Over the last four games, Crew SC fans have gotten an extended look at the new formation and how it works. For most positions, not much changed offensively — the forward is supported by two midfielders underneath, the fullbacks push high up the field — that is not the case for Trapp.
Now he is much more involved offensively, a place where he feels comfortable.
“I think the biggest thing is playing higher up the field,” Trapp told Massive Report this week. “It’s different when you’re between lines versus on the back side of the line like where Alex is now. Just coordinating those movements and turning in those pockets.
It’s a fun challenge. I enjoy that side of the game. It’s fun for me to have a different look.”
What this adds to the Crew SC attack is the ability to play a bit more direct. One of Trapp’s strengths is playing pinpoint long balls to find an on-the-move teammate. While he’s been able to do that at times over the last three-plus years, his focus on helping the defense has limited how much he can be involved offensively.
With Alex Crognale now anchoring the backline, Trapp, who is still the more defensive minded of the two central midfielders, is able to get back to creating on the attack and using the speed of players like Kamara, Kekuta Manneh, Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram to spring the counter.
“The biggest thing I think you’ve seen in my game is the balls over the top to Ola, balls between lines, behind lines,” Trapp said. “Because in a lot of ways, we are isolating Ola verses center backs.
“From a transition perspective, it’s much less responsibility. Because you have three center backs covering the whole time so we can be more aggressive or to press balls to support the attack and we need it because we have less attackers.”
Trapp is now more focused offensively, but that doesn’t mean he has no defensive responsibilities. These now are just occurring higher up the field, as he attempts to breakup plays coming towards his backline, instead of when they reach the last line of defense.
While this is a bit of an adjustment, training exercises have helped prepare the midfielder for this new role.
“The biggest thing is realizing it’s a little more 360 than 180,” Trapp said. “You’re in front of the attacking line, so that’s probably the biggest thing. But we do possession drills all the time where you’re the neutral in between having to get aware with everything, so it’s not too big of a difference.”
Although it’s been a while, Trapp has played in a similar role to this before. The Homegrown product was a two-time high school All-American and led Gahanna Lincoln to its first state championship in 2009 as an offensive weapon in the midfield.
He hopes to contribute more offensively for Crew SC in his new, more advanced position as the Black & Gold look to adjust to offense in a three-man backline formation.
“It’s something we’ve been working on a lot and a lot of it is our movement, but also how quickly we are circling the ball,” Trapp said. “Because we can move but if the timing’s not right, then it breaks down.”
Columbus fans will likely get another chance to see Trapp and Crew SC in the recent look Saturday night when the Black & Gold take the field at the San Jose Earthquakes. The game will kickoff at 10:30 p.m. ET