PSP talks to Columbus holding midfielder Wil Trapp

Photo: Courtesy of MLS

Ahead of Saturday’s Philadelphia Union game against Columbus, PSP talks to Crew holding midfielder Wil Trapp.

Philly Soccer Page: Last week, Portland’s Diego Valeri drifted around a lot, and as the deepest lying player, you often have to keep an eye on him. Philly’s attacking midfielder often players higher up the pitch. Can you talk about what your role is defensively for the Crew, and what is generally expected of you?

Wil Trapp: I think the biggest thing for my role is providing balance. Both on the attacking side, in terms of circulating the ball around the field if we are in the attacking half. And when it comes to defending, the balance between putting out fires, tracking that midfielder, as you said, and trying to slow down any major transition plays. It seemed like Portland was very adept at creating space and creating chaos in those balance moments and transition moments.

But it did seem like you guys had the upper hand in terms of the flow of play when you could push the fullbacks up. Though that meant you and the center backs had to work together to figure out how to close down those transitions when Dairon Asprilla was coming up the wing. Philly wants to play more like you guys, though, and push their wingers inside a bit. When you’re facing something like that, how do you find balance? And what can draw you out of the middle? What’s an acceptable reason to leave?

If you asked my coach, he would say nothing. [laughs]

For myself, it’s putting out fires. If we give the ball away in a wide channel, and our outside back and winger are behind the play, that would be an instance where if an attacking midfielder had pulled out into that channel, I would go with him to track and close the space there. It’s really dictated by where that midfielder goes, and if it’s worth the risk to move out of my position. Sometimes it can be closed by a center back moving forward or a recovering outside back.

Has that changed at all this season compared to last? It seemed like you guys were pushing the fullbacks even further up the pitch than normal on Sunday. 

I think all of these situations can be traced back to a loss of possession in a bad area. A failure of an attack that, maybe we didn’t finish the attack, so to speak. Maybe we didn’t get a cross out of it, or a corner out of it, or a shot out of it.

Those are moments when transition really occurs. If we lose balls in difficult spots or bad spots, we don’t have adequate cover and it creates these transition moments. So I don’t think Harrison has been doing anything different in terms of moving forward, I just think Portland is a team that likes to cheat guys high, and they can make it very difficult in those transition moments.

Offensively, you guys move the ball quickly. That’s sort of a hallmark of the Columbus style of play in general. Can you tell me how you balance taking those easy one touch passes versus taking an extra touch, looking up, and trying to pick out longer passes?

Part of it is dictated by the opponent. But also, what our team thinks about is: How can we unsettle the opponent? And my role in the group is getting the ball from one guy to the next in the most efficient way possible in order to do that. I think it’s not a question of should I dribble more and play longer passes, it’s more: Does that make sense given the opponent we are playing and given the group we have on the field at a given moment.

One thing Philly struggled to do last week was put pressure on Mauro Diaz, but they were fairly successful pressuring the deeper midfielders like Kellyn Acosta. When a team is trying to put high pressure on you back there, how do you respond? 

I watched the Philly game as well, and I think they did a good job closing space moving forward and putting a guy like Kellyn in difficult positions where he had to play a first time ball around the corner, just uncomfortable spots.

Michael Parkhurst and myself, specifically, in those sorts of moments, what we try to do is create indecision in the opponent through our spacing and movement. That’s the biggest thing you can do when you’re being pressed. How can you open up space through your movement? And how can you make the opponent think twice as they press? Because if everyone is moving forward on a pressing team and not thinking about what is going on behind them, in terms of closing space, one ball can beat multiple guys.

There’s so much movement in your offense, but it seems like it can be dictated by a guy like Federico Higuain. Early in the Portland game, I saw him drift out to the right back position, and Harrison Afful tucked inside to balance that out. How do you fit into that? Do you have to read and react to the movement in front of you rather than dictating that movement? Is that sort of what ‘balance’ means?

Sure. It’s one of those roles where you’re really… a lot of my movement is not really to get the ball. It’s to open up space for a guy like Tony Tchani or Federico Higuain, or the outside backs like when Harrison came inside when Federico went wide. So what I try to think about is: Where is the opponent? How can I always be an option for the ball while still creating lanes for the guy on the ball to pass to multiple people? And that is something that is depending on how the team we are playing against is set up, and how we think we can best affect the opponent.

Since you watched the Union game, was there anything notable you saw that was different from what you saw from them last season?

There were some good aspects. Like every team with a new philosophy and new players, you’re just trying to fit it all together. And I think their pressure was pretty good against Dallas, created some havoc. But Dallas is a tough opponent to play in your first game, as well. Especially with a lot of new guys.

PSP: Great. Thanks for taking the time to talk. 


  1. I so appreciate this article both for how much I enjoy reading it but more for the outright irony …
    you have chosen two very interesting in depth focuses these past 2 weeks… the sporting director for a team clearly on the right track, building through youth and academy and the young upcoming holding midfielder on a team poised to win a Cup… when our ‘holding’ midfielder is now injured long term and our old young upcoming holding midfielder is out of a job and with 2 more years experience could be the center piece of the team…
    …but he’s not playing anywhere at the moment and that’s because he isn’t good.
    This is a guy I would love to have, very intelligent, all about moving the defense both his and the other teams where they want…- and oh hey, wouldn’t it be nice for WT to maybe get a sniff from coach Klinsman since there is a HUGE opening in the very near future in this very position.
    I chuckle…

  2. He is very polite about his comments regarding the Union’s game vs Dallas. I know he was really thinking “Wow they look like crap, can’t wait to play them”

  3. This is a great interview. I almost skipped it, and I’m glad I didn’t. No one ever asks players about this sort of tactical stuff–even though they are the ones who have to implement it on the fly. It’s really interesting to hear Trapp’s thoughts.

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