Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Let's Talk About Wil Trapp

One of the feel-good early story lines of the 2014 season is the dynamic play of the Columbus Crew.  Playing in an outdated stadium on the outskirts of one of the smallest markets in MLS, first year coach Gregg Berhalter appears to have something special brewing.  Although winning three of their first four games is great, what is really intriguing about this Crew team is how they are achieving their results: possession-based (highest % in MLS), attractive soccer. The parallels with Caleb Porter's 2013 Portland Timber squad are so obvious that pundits are already trying to coin their style, only slightly in jest, as "Greggball" or "Berhalterball".

Apart from the coach, Columbus' management deserves a lot of credit for putting together a strong squad.  The addition of US international Michael Parkhurst is a big boost to the backline's ability to play out of trouble.  Then, there is the ever-sterling performance by the lesser-known Higuain brother, Federico.  In my opinion, Higuain is the most underrated player in MLS and it is a joke he is not perennially in MVP/All Star discussions.  See here for more evidence.

Higuain's favorite passing partner in midfield is 21 year old Wil Trapp.  The Crew's homegrown former US U-20 star has been at the heart of Columbus' 2014 transformation.  Despite his fast-rising star, Trapp does not get much attention from the national soccer press, as exemplified by his exclusion from the 2013 MLS 24 under 24 list. Yes, he plays for a small market team and it is true he is small and not physically imposing (listed at 5'8 at looks as if the wind might blow him over).  But he possesses a level of maturity and technical skill not often seen in the young American player pool (see this US Soccer spotlight).  

Individual soccer stats can be very misleading, but sometimes you see some numbers that make you question former-held assumptions.  

How important is the number of passes you complete in a game?  Or how many tackles you win?  Or how many long balls you play?  In truth, none of these statistics on their own are very useful.  But, sometimes you get enough data points that you begin to ask some questions. All players reach the point where vague assertions like the one I made above ("possesses a level of maturity and technical skill not often seen...") must be confirmed with output.  In the first weeks of the MLS season Wil Trapp is blowing right through that barrier with such a force that we just cannot ignore him anymore.  

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