Columbus Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter has a couple of important decisions to make as the Black & Gold prepare to face D.C. United on Saturday at MAPFRE Stadium.
As Zack Steffen and Wil Trapp are both with the U.S. Men’s National Team, which prepares for a friendly against Paraguay on Tuesday, Berhalter will be forced to change his lineup for the first time this year in the fourth week of the MLS regular season.
For Steffen, Berhalter will have to choose between Jon Kempin or Logan Ketterer. His options to replace Trapp are somehow more familiar. But that doesn’t make the decision any easier for the coach.
After all, Trapp is a central piece of Crew SC’s system, a player who was on the field for all but 25 minutes of the Black & Gold’s 2017 campaign and who wears the captain’s armband. In Mohammed Abu and Ricardo Clark, Berhalter has proven, but distinct alternatives to replace him.
“They give us different dimensions,” Berhalted commented about his options. “With Ricardo, you have a guy who’s a very good ball-winner, who’s been in this league for a while and understands how to be successful.”
“With Mo you have a guy who’s more of a like-for-like replacement for Wil in terms of how he can fill in. He’s been around, he knows the system and is a very good technical player, very good at keeping the ball and moving it. They both have different qualities, but can both help us to be successful on this game.”
Abu, 26, had the edge from the chemistry standpoint. Starting his second season with the club, he played in 23 matches in 2017, a year when he had ups and downs, with 16 starts, two of them in the playoffs.
The Ghanaian international, who is the most technically skilled of the two, sees the potential opportunity to play as his first chance to see the field in 2018, in an uncommon occasion when Trapp and Artur will not be on the field together shielding Crew SC’s back line.
“It’s not an easy position to be, as Wil and Artur are playing very well and they are always on the field, but I’m a professional and I try to show in every training session that I’m ready to play,” he said. “I want to be on the field and do what the team expects from me and that’s what I’ll do if I get an opportunity.”
“Last year’s experience, with us being in the playoffs and playing some big games really helped me. We have a good atmosphere in the team right now and we want to build from this good start and make sure we can achieve our goals in the end of the season.”
.@RicoC13 talks about the process of learning the rhythm of #CrewSC and working with the rest of the team!— Columbus Crew SC (@ColumbusCrewSC) March 22, 2018
"Every day has been a progression and it's been getting better." pic.twitter.com/Q9Ebf1G4I1
In Clark, the Black & Gold have a more physical player and one with more experience. The 35-year-old midfielder first played in MLS back in 2013, has 363 league matches under his belt and a leadership profile that makes of him a candidate to be the team’s captain in Trapp’s absence.
A free agent this past offseason, Clark was signed in February and, despite acknowledging he’s still getting used to Crew SC’s system, the veteran feels he’s ready to help. He replaced Lalas Abubakar in the in the final moments against the Montreal Impact, but only stayed on the field for a few seconds.
“Every day I’m progressing with the team,” he remarked. “It’s been a process to get on rhythm with the playing style. Gregg and the staff have been doing a great job on giving me feedback on my role and what to do in different situations. Just playing alongside the guys each and every day since preseason has helped me. Every day has been a progression and I want to keep it doing throughout the season.
“I’m here to contribute and everybody wants an opportunity. I feel like I’m ready for that opportunity and I want to make the most of it. Whenever my time comes I’ll do my best to give it a 100 percent and contribute.”
Instead of seeing Trapp’s absence as a potential problem, Berhalter views it as an opportunity to get more players on the field. For the coach, after watching a huge level of effort and commitment from his players during preseason, it’s pleasant to be able to get them chances to play sooner than expected.
“We are definitely going to have to replace two guys and have a certain comfort level about it,” the coach added. “It’s so nice when you get that opportunity so close to preseason because the guys worked so hard in preseason, they are waiting for a chance and it’s nice to give them an opportunity this early in the season.”