On Wil Trapp and Increased Performance

Wil Trapp has been getting a lot of attention lately for his play with the Columbus Crew. He’s been written up by Tempo-Free Soccer, the official MLS website, the Columbus Dispatch, and TopDrawerSoccer this season. Going back to last season the list also includes Massive Report and US Soccer.

Looking at Trapp’s productivity this season, it is easy to see why. Here is a chart showing the number of passes he completed under each of the Crew’s various head coaches:

Wil Trapp Pass Totals Per Game

This violin chart is somewhat unfair to Brian Bliss, in that Trapp’s range under his tenure is skewed lower because of a single game. During Bliss’ first game in charge, Trapp was forced to leave the game due to injury – meaning his pass totals for that game are unnaturally low. This outlier notwithstanding, however, it is clear that this season Trapp is linking up with his teammates much more often than in the past.

This isn’t the whole story, however. To see why, lets look at Trapp’s passing share – the percentage of the team’s passes that he completed:

Wil Trapp's Pass Share Per Game

In this chart, the vertical scale the percentage of all the Crew’s passes that were completed by Trapp. If each of the 11 field players completed the same number of passes, Trapp would have 1/11 of the total, or 9.1%.

Trapp is significantly above this threshold, but unlike the first chart his passing share under Berhalter doesn’t show the same sort of separation from previous coaches. In fact, it was under Warzycha that Trapp played the most prominent role. During last year’s 2-0 victory over New York, Trapp completed 20% of the Crew’s passes. While his passing share under Berhalter is higher than it was under Bliss, there’s something else going on than simply “Trapp is playing a more prominent role.”

To get more context, lets look at the passing figures for the Crew as a whole – both how many passes are made, and how accurate they are:

Crew Pass Totals Per GameCrew Pass Accuracy Per Game

In fact, the increased numbers that we’re seeing from Trapp are echoed by the team as a whole. The entire roster is completing more passes, and doing so more accurately, than they did last season under either Robert Warzycha or Brian Bliss.

This isn’t to say that Trapp’s role on the team is unimportant. He deserves every plaudit that comes his way, for he is filling the role of holding midfielder as well as any player in Crew history – including club legends like Brian Carroll. Unfortunately, those comparisons are harder to make numerically because the league only launched the Golazo service late last season.

I write this post, then, for two reasons:

First, to argue that Trapp’s significance to the Crew has not come from nowhere this season – by some measures he was just as important last year. He may be playing a slightly different role under Berhalter, but he was also effective under Warzycha’s and Bliss’ systems.

Second, the turnaround that the Crew have shown through the first five games is more of a case that a rising tide lifts all boats. Between Berhalter’s new system, improved performances by returning players and a few very talented additions, the Crew appear to be enjoying a virtuous cycle – many improvements are coming together to produce significantly better results that go beyond any one player – even one whose effectiveness goes back to his first game in Black and Gold.

 

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