When the United States men’s national team announced its roster for the friendly with Paraguay, Columbus Crew SC fans were excited to see Wil Trapp and Zack Steffen called in to represent their country.
That is until they realized that the call ups meant both Trapp and Steffen will miss Saturday’s home game against D.C. United as the U.S. prepares for the March 27 match.
For Columbus, it means missing two key pieces who both started every game last season and the three matches to begin this year.
You can see why supporters would be concerned, but Black & Gold head coach Gregg Berhalter is looking at this weekend as a positive.
“It’s good. It’s a good problem to have,” he said. “You have two young national team players and you give other guys opportunities and they’ve been working really hard for these opportunities.”
In 2017, Trapp, the team’s captain, played all but 25 minutes for Crew SC, as he remained healthy for the first time since his rookie season. He formed a dynamic partnership with Brazilian Artur and the duo controlled the central midfield for Columbus all the way to the Eastern Conference Final.
But Trapp also teamed with Mohammed Abu for 14 starts while Artur was injured or suspended.
This offseason, the Black & Gold added veteran MLS midfielder Ricardo Clark and Berhalter could see either him or Abu player filling in for Trapp against D.C. What he does not know is how that will go, as Abu rarely had to play in Trapp’s No. 6 role and and Clark continues to learn the Crew SC system.
So far though, Berhalter likes what he has seen from the reserve midfielders.
“We’ll see on Saturday because someone’s going to have to play,” he said when asked how the depth is progressing. “I think our evaluation of it in preseason has been quite good. We’re quite pleased with where that group is at. But real games are different.”
As for who replaces Steffen, that’s a more complicated question.
In three seasons with the Black & Gold, former goalkeeper Steve Clark missed only two games and those came in the final contests of 2106 when Columbus was already eliminated from postseason contention.
Last season, Steffen played in all 34 matches, paving the way to his second call up to the national team.
This means, over the last four years, Crew SC is not used to having its starter out of the net for MLS games.
Again though, Berhalter is maintaining a positive attitude about his goalkeeper position for Saturday, which will either feature Jon Kempin or Logan Ketterer in goal.
“(Goalkeeper coach) Pat (Onstad)’s been working hard with them the last couple of weeks and I think both of them have been doing well,” the head coach said. “Both of them are fighting for the opportunity. It’s going to be finalizing it during this week and seeing who’s ready.”
Kempin is in his ninth MLS season, after spending seven years with Sporting Kanas City/the Kansas City Wizards before playing last season with the LA Galaxy. Kempin has played in 14 MLS matches, starting 13 and has two shutouts.
Ketterer was selected 71st overall in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, but did not play in any competitive games for Columbus in his rookie year as the third-string goalkeeper behind Brad Stuver.
Over the first two weeks of the 2018 season, Ketterer was the backup to Steffen in wins over Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact as the goalkeeper more familiar with the Black & Gold’s system. Last week though, Kempin made his debut in Crew SC’s 18-man game day roster for the 0-0 draw with the Philadelphia Union.
Throughout this week, these two netminders will contend for the spot in goal, similarly to Abu and Clark in the midfield.
Through the first three games of 2018, Berhalter has played the same starting 11, resulting in a nearly perfect 2-0-1 record including two results on the road. That will certainly change this week, but the head coach is not concerned.
“I’m excited that two new guys get to play,” he said.