The buildup to a pro soccer debut is a lifetime of dreams and preparation, but the exact timing of that magical moment can hang in the balance of mere seconds. On a sunny Saturday afternoon in Toronto, Columbus Crew rookies Wil Trapp and Chad Barson found themselves on opposite sides of that razor thin margin. One of the mini-subplots of the Crew’s 1-0 win over Toronto FC was the tale of these two homegrown players.
As Crew midfielder Matias Sanchez lay on the grass in pain in the 69th minute, the 20-year-old Trapp, a Gahanna native who has long been considered the crown jewel of the Crew’s academy system, was summoned to the bench area. He removed the warm-up bib from his jersey, popped in his shin guards, and received last-minute instructions from assistant coach Mike Lapper, who had the sub card in his hand. Trapp stood ready to take that one monumental step forward over the white line, realizing his childhood dream of playing for his hometown Crew. At that precise moment, Trapp’s sister, Julia, bombarded friends and family with text messages urging everyone to turn on the game for her brother’s long-awaited milestone.
“My heart started beating really fast,” Trapp said. “I ran on over and I was extremely excited, like, ‘Holy crap! I’m going in!’ Then they told me to sit back down.”
The last-second reversal of fortune came when Sanchez was deemed healthy enough to continue. Although happy for his teammate’s health, Trapp felt what anyone would feel as his heartbeat slowed to normal and he rejoined his fellow substitutes.
“It was definitely a letdown just because you obviously want to get into a game,” said Trapp, whose cheerful demeanor was unaffected by the day’s events. “That’s just the way it goes sometimes.”
After coming tantalizingly close to his pro debut, Trapp had fallen victim to what third-year player Eric Gehrig calls “the fake out.”
“It’s tough,” Gehrig said. “Every younger player goes through that in their career. You get all excited to go in and then you get told to head on back to the group.”
Ironically, Trapp’s near-debut may have been just as much a fake out for the Crew as it was for him. He has been called into the U20 national team and is expected to miss most of the summer representing the United States at the Toulon Tournament in France and the U20 World Cup in Turkey. His Crew debut may have to wait for a while now.
Meanwhile, Barson, a 22-year-old native of Lewis Center, had endured his own version of the fake out in previous weeks when defender Chad Marshall had taken some knocks on the field. On Saturday, when Tyson Wahl went down late in the game, Barson found himself standing at the center line, just as close to his dream as Trapp had been 15 minutes earlier. In this instance, however, Wahl could not continue. In the 84th minute, Barson went into the official record books by making his Crew debut.
“It was definitely exciting,” said Barson, who won national championships with the Crew’s U19 and U20 squads, as well an NCAA title with the University of Akron. “It was a tough game to get thrown into. It was a battle, but I was excited to help the team out. At that moment, I’m just trying to get out of the game with a win. At that point, it may not always be pretty, but you have to do whatever it takes.”
Despite his own near miss, Trapp found great joy in seeing his friend and Akron teammate on the field.
“I’m nothing but happy for Chad,” he said. “He definitely deserved to get on the field. It sucks that Tyson got injured, but I’m happy for Chad that he got to make his debut.”
While Saturday’s fate for these two homegrown players can pull at the sentimental heartstrings of the Crew organization, the fans, and obviously the friends and families of the players involved, Crew head coach Robert Warzycha had to make split-second decisions. When a player is injured on the field, Warzycha said he has to focus on the needs of the team in the game at hand, not the thin white line that separates a debut from a non-debut.
“I don’t look at the bench and see if somebody is a rookie,” Warzycha said. “For me, at the moment that Matias is hurt, I am thinking that we need Wil Trapp on the field. But then Matias was okay. And later on, when Tyson is hurt, I am thinking that today we need Chad Barson on the field. Maybe Chad wasn’t even thinking he would play today, but that is the game. We needed him and he did a very good job.”
With their long histories of success while coming up through the Crew’s academy system, in college at Akron, and with the youth-level U.S, national teams, the debuts of Barson and Trapp have always been a matter of when, not if. That it happened for Barson in Toronto was a feel-good moment, while Trapp’s near-debut will surely be a footnote when all is said and done.
“Chad works his butt off in practice and he has a great attitude,” said Gehrig. “I was happy for him. I’m sure he will have a lot more of these this year and many more games throughout his career. And Wil is the ultimate pro. He’s very young and he’s going to be a great player.”