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Columbus Crew: Kickin’ it with Wil Trapp and Justin Meram

From making it to the MLS Cup finals a couple years ago to just missing the playoffs last season, this Columbus Crew Soccer Club is in a place of a minor identity crisis—a club continually leaning on the cusp of national significan

What holds the squad together is leadership and talent from a diverse group of players. We sat down with two members of the club—one a Columbus native, the other with international origins—to learn about their journey to becoming a player for the Crew today and what they expect from their team in the near future.

 

Wil Trapp

Born: Jan. 15, 1993 in Columbus, Ohio

College: University of Akron

Drafted: Signed with the Columbus Crew in 2012

Position: Midfielder

Career Accolades: 

– Member of the United States national team

– Mid-American Conference Men’s Soccer Newcomer of the Year (2011)

– U.S. Soccer Young Male Athlete of the Year (2013)

– MLS All-Star (2016)

What got you into soccer?

I played a bunch of different sports when I was a kid, but soccer was the one that I just enjoyed the most. My brother and sister are older than me and they played, so I was just kind of the younger brother following in their footsteps. I enjoyed it, found out I was good at it, and kept playing.

Talk about your high school soccer experience leading into college.

[After winning states the season before], my senior year at Gahanna Lincoln, we were really talented. We just didn’t always put it together. It was a great experience—to now see guys like Alex Crognale on the professional team here, who I played with in high school, and a couple other guys who played Division 1. [For college], Caleb Porter with Akron was very adamant and persuasive in his recruiting process. You go there and see the players that they churn out year after year, and it was hard for me not to say yes.

How would you describe your early journey with the Crew?

As a 19 or 20-year-old rookie, I didn’t really know what to expect, and I was busy with the U.S. Under-20 team. We had our World Cup qualifying and the U-World Cup, so the first half of the year I was really preoccupied with that. My first game back from the World Cup was my Crew debut, and then I started the rest of the season.

What’s been your favorite moment so far with the club?

Anytime you make a late playoff run and get to the MLS Cup, it’s a highlight. Unfortunately, we lost the game, but the experience and seeing what it takes to get there, and seeing what it takes to win it—all of it excites me.

What’s your vision for the club?

For the team right now, we’re just focused on making the playoffs. Year after year in this league, it’s just “make the playoffs,” and anything can happen.

 

Justin Meram

Born: Dec. 4, 1988 in Shelby Charter Township, Michigan

College: Yavapai College/University

of Michigan

Drafted: First round, 15th overall (2011)

Position: Midfielder

Career Accolades:

– Member of the Iraq national team

– National Junior College Player of the Year (2008)

– All-Big Ten second team (2009, 2010)

– Scored fastest goal in MLS Cup playoff history

– As of 7/14, is ranked third this season on the Crew

in goals (eight) and first in assists (six)

What got you into soccer?

Soccer was heavily influenced on me at a young age. I have three older brothers, two who played consistently. My uncle played back home in Iraq and in college. He trained me as much as my brothers trained me in the backyard. You fall in love with the game at a young age when everyone close around you starts playing.

Talk about your high school soccer experience leading into college.

In high school, I was all-state and a conference champion. I wasn’t recruited by anybody; that was it for me. Then my family moved to Arizona. One day, I was training with my brothers for their men’s league at a practice, and an alumnus from Yavapai College was there and saw me and talked to me…the alumnus called the head coach [Mike Pantalione] who gave me a walk-on spot-—the rest is history. I won two national titles and the National Player of the Year, and that was just a kid who was found in a park. Michigan later came in and gave me a full ride.

How would you describe your early journey with the Crew?

I didn’t even dress or make the game day rosters for the first 12 or 13 games. Then I ended up playing 17 games as rookie and had a couple of assists. I came into my second year wanting to make a real impact and play real minutes. I had three goals [in a three-game stretch]. I remember thinking, “Wow, I made it.” Then I got benched for a month and a half. I was a young kid with lost confidence. Then, a new coaching staff came in and saw my talent and development. I didn’t start right away, but a player injury gave me a foot-in-the-door, and I never looked back. I’ve been starting for the most part of the past three years.

What’s been your favorite moment so far with the club?

Scoring nine seconds into the Eastern Conference Finals. Scoring in the 94th minute in Seattle to win the game in front of 50,000 fans, and recently scoring a hat-trick and the game winner on the road. Those three moments are ones that I will share with my kids one day.

What’s your vision for the club?

Right now, our vision is to stay above the red line and make the playoffs. We know damn well that no team wants to play us in the playoffs because we’re so hard to beat.

Chris Pennington

Chris Pennington

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