It was sudden and it was jarring but if Columbus Crew SC fans paid close attention and read the tea leaves, the trade of Wil Trapp was not all that surprising.
After seven seasons with the club, the former Homegrown player from the Columbus suburb of Gahanna, Ohio was dealt to Major League Soccer expansion side Inter Miami late last week for up to $300,000 in General Allocation Money, a 2020 international roster spot and a percentage of any future transfer fee. And while some Black & Gold supporters hoped the captain would spend his entire career with the Crew, a move of some sort was always in the offing.
“This past year, since I took the job, Wil, myself, (technical director) Pat (Onstad) and (president and general manager) Tim (Bezbatchenko) have had honest and open discussions and communication regarding his desire, his intent and we’ve been very open with Wil about the options,” head coach Caleb Porter said on a teleconference call from preseason camp this week.
Trapp has long looked for a move to Europe but, for various reasons, that never happened. A $1.25 million offer from English Championship side Blackburn Rovers was turned down in 2018 and other teams from abroad inquired about Trapp. In the end, the option that worked the best for Wil and the club was the move to Miami.
For Trapp, this trade a new lease on life after playing his entire soccer career in the state of Ohio. For the Crew, it’s a continued rebuild after a disastrous 2019 that saw the team miss the MLS Cup playoffs for the first time in three seasons.
But despite what some fans may think about Trapp’s reasons for leaving, the relationship between the player and the only professional team he knew remains positive and the decision to move to Miami was a mutual one.
“We ended on good terms, myself, Wil, Pat and Tim,” Porter said. “So much so that we allowed Will to say goodbye to the team in person, which is something that I’ve never seen or done. And he deserved that respect.”
Trapp’s departure leaves a hole that the Black & Gold must fill. The central midfielder played 185 games for Columbus, starting 179. The only time Trapp was not an automatic starter for the Crew was when dealing with injuries or away on international duty. That type of consistency — plus his two goals and 19 assists for the club — is hard to replace.
Fortunately, the Black & Gold have two replacements ready to step in.
Artur is set to enter his fourth season in Columbus and was a regular next to Trapp in the midfield. In 86 MLS regular season games, the Brazilian has five career assists and reestablished himself under Porter toward the end of last year after a slow start to 2019.
Darlington Nagbe was acquired in November from Atlanta United in a deal worth upwards of $1 million in allocation money. Nagbe, who like Trapp played for Porter previously, is a veteran of nine MLS seasons split between Atlanta and the Portland Timbers. He has 270 MLS regular season games under his belt as well as 20 more appearances in the postseason with two MLS Cup titles to his name.
The duo of Artur and Nagbe will form the central midfield for the Crew in 2020. Working together in the double-pivot system Porter prefers, Artur will bring bite to the center of the park while Nagbe will help the team create and build the attack.
While neither player is Trapp, they both have qualities that Porter likes in his central midfielders.
“We’re very comfortable with Artur and Darlington in the 6 and the 8 right now, which is why ultimately we agreed to the decision (to trade Trapp),” Porter explained.
Prior to the trade, it appeared the Black & Gold would have arguably the deepest central midfield group in the league with three experienced players who can all play in a variety of roles. Trapp moving on meant that depth took a hit, but the Columbus staff believes the team has prepared itself adequately.
In mid-January, the Crew signed Homegrown products Aidan Morris and Sebastian Berhalter to contracts. Like Trapp, both players came through the Black & Gold’s Academy and worked with the first-team before briefly playing in college, Morris at Indiana and Berhalter at North Carolina.
Despite their youth, both players possess the talent to play in MLS and, similar to Trapp, will get an opportunity to suit up for their hometown club as rookies.
“I think the cool thing is when you see a former Homegrown who’s left his mark and legacy like Wil has, with one door closing you have now two doors opening in Sebastian Berhalter and Aidan Morris,” Porter said. “And so that pathway is a little more clear for those two guys. So that’s exciting. That should be exciting for our supporters that we have kind of that next crop of players in the pipeline. And you do need to have a pathway.”
After training with Columbus as Academy players the last couple of years, they are now officially on the roster and making their mark. Both Morris and Berhalter have seen the field throughout the preseason, playing together for 30 minutes in the opening game against USL 2 side Ventura County Fusion before seeing 45 minutes against the Vancouver Whitecaps and 60 minutes in tandem against the San Jose Earthquakes on Monday.
Like with Artur and Nagbe, Morris and Berhalter have been deployed in the double-pivot in central midfield. At this point in their careers, Morris is more of a ball winner (like Artur) and Berhalter possesses the technical ability of a No. 6 (similar to Nagbe). These roles will continue to grow as the preseason progresses and the regular season begins.
“Those are amazing minutes and reps for these young players to get,” Porter continued. “So the question is, are they both ready to step into a first-team game? I think they could be. Will we put them in first-team games? It depends on the next four weeks, depends obviously on their growth and development.
“They’re very young kids, but I love the attitude of both of them. They both fit the profile in the 6 and 8. They’re great kids. They’re coachable and they will keep growing. And so we need to give them every opportunity to play games.”
Losing a player like Trapp, the face of a franchise, was always going to be difficult. Had he gone abroad two seasons ago or last year, the Crew would have needed to find a replacement. While seeing Trapp move within MLS may have been surprising to some Black & Gold fans, it was time for the midfielder to leave his hometown and continue to progress his career.
“These things are never easy,” Porter said. “But it’s a good story for him and that will never be lost. Hometown kid, Homegrown, played seven years for the club. His legacy will last forever with what he did for the club. I know personally, from my standpoint, I really enjoyed the time I had with him.
“It was amazing to have last year again with him. But this was the right thing for him and his career and ultimately I think with him being in Columbus so long, a little change of scenery will be good for him in this next stage of his journey.”
Columbus now is positioned well for its post-Trapp era. With Artur and Nagbe as talented starters and Morris and Berhalter as exciting, young backups, the Crew feels good about the central midfield heading into the season.
And if the Black & Gold need to make an addition, say in the summer window, that is always an option.
“Always we’re looking at every position to grow the team and the roster,” Porter said. “But we’re still very comfortable right now with the group that we have.”