Each offseason it happens for every Major League Soccer franchise. Players come, players go and a new roster is built. Columbus Crew SC has managed to keep the core of its team more or less intact for most of the last seasons. But when 2019 comes, the Black & Gold are in serious risk of losing two of its most important players.
We began our offseason reflection by looking at who will be Crew SC’s head coach if Gregg Berhalter leaves the team. The second topic of Massive Report’s Offseason Questions series is will Zack Steffen and Wil Trapp both be around in 2019?
The goalkeeper and the midfielder were two of the most consistent players for the Crew in 2018 and their good performances were rewarded with frequent call ups for the United States Men’s National Team. With the exposure, teams from around the globe got to watch them play and the Black & Gold reportedly received formal offers for both players.
Selling players is part of the business, especially for an ascending league like MLS, and if you are a midsize-market franchise as the Crew is, you probably need to cash in eventually to keep your roster competitive. The problem is how you get players to replace the guys that leave.
Steffen had arguably the best season of his career, earning the starting spot of the USMNT and taking home MLS’s Goalkeeper of the Year Award despited not being selected to the league’s Best XI. The 23-year-old shot-stopper registered 10 shutouts in 29 matches during the season, the third best in the league, and kept opponents scoreless for 525 minutes, an all-time record for the club, from late April to mid-June.
The goalkeeper generated interest overseas and English Championship club Bristol City reportedly submitted a $3.9 million offer for him in July, which the Black & Gold rejected.
Trapp, who captained the USMNT eight times in 2018, solidified his role as a central piece in Berhalter’s system by leading the team in touches, getting to the ball an average of 68.5 times per match. The 25-year-old midfielder connected on 88.4 percent of his passes, the best rate of his career, and scored a goal for the first time since 2014.
He also stepped up defensively, ending the season with 2.1 tackles per game, the third-best for the team. English Championship side Blackburn Rovers reportedly offered $1.25 million for him in August, but the Crew turned that offer down it as well.
Steffen and Trapp were not only two of the team’s best players, but they were also leaders on the roster in what was a troubling season. Trapp, a Columbus-native, was repeatedly praised by his teammates as one of the main reasons why the team kept the focus on the field despite what seemed to be the significant possibility of the franchise relocating to Austin.
If they were to leave, the Crew would definitely need to look somewhere else for replacements. Jon Kenpim and Logan Ketterer are nowhere near Steffen’s level in goal and even though Ricardo Clark is proven veteran, he isn’t getting any younger and wouldn’t be able to endure an entire season in Trapp’s role at the age of 35.
And don’t forget it wouldn’t be only about replacing production. In a league with a salary cap, teams need to make the most with limited resources and that’s exactly what the Crew is doing with both of them. At $550,000 per year, Trapp is just the sixth-highest salary on Columbus’ roster while Steffen, listed at just $145,000 per year, ranks 15th on the team’s salary budget. It would be very unlikely that the Black & Gold would find good options at a similar price tag.
Ultimately, the decision of keeping Steffen and Trapp resides more on the players than on the Crew. If they want to leave, the team will let them go when the right offer comes. So, it’s better start to think in ways to replace them rather sooner than later.