“When I think of MLS, it’s just kinda like…. I mean personally? … It’s the Crew because I’m from Columbus and that’s the team that we have here.” – Wil Trapp
This piece conceived and executed by John Nyen, Portland, OR
This moment should cascade over you, gentle reader.
Bathe in the recognition of it.
This column isn’t about that garden variety 30-, 40-, 50- or 60-year-old soccer crowd who went through indoor leagues, APSL, and the relatively barren landscape of soccer in North America post NASL and pre ‘94 World Cup.
This moment is about the youth of Canada and the United States, in and out of MLS markets, who have almost an unconscious association of Team and Town when it comes to soccer. There may not be king-sized blankets of rolling support yet, but the league is beyond mere pockets of it.
This unconscious association of Columbus to Crew and Kansas City to Sporting will do more for MLS and this sport in this geographical area than any number of crazy innovations or player signings.
Born January 15th, 1993, Wil Trapp is part of a new generation of young North American soccer player and fan.
At 19 years old, there is no point in Wil’s memory where MLS doesn’t exist.
It simply does exist, as it always has existed to him and his local team has always played in and around Columbus. From three years old to now, Wil can say that the Columbus Crew has been his team. He didn’t have to resort to scanning the dial for Saturday morning games broadcast with awkward accents and bloody-confusing phrases or flipping through channels with voluptuous women speaking Spanish for matches on confetti-strewn fields.
On December 13th 2012, Trapp signed a homegrown player contract with Columbus Crew after two years at the University of Akron and four as a pupil in the Columbus Crew academy. The Lincoln High School product heads into the 2013 season a professional soccer player, fulfilling a dream of his in more than one category. Not only does he get paid to play sports, but as well…. Wil signed a contract for the team that he has watched and loved growing up.
That wasn’t possible if Ronald Reagan was ever your president.
Wil bleeds yellow, and when he dons the Crew kit he’s bringing not only his new found professionalism but 19 years of ingrained passion. Wil is a Columbus Crew fan because he grew up in a suburb of Columbus, a town called Gahanna, which is about 15 minutes from Crew stadium.
Head down the 317, onto the onramp at the 670-270 exchange, and West to I-71 North. Done.
Now, Will Trapp’s unique perspective.
Nyen, TSG: “Do you know when your first Columbus game was?”
Trapp: “I mean I can’t remember, like obviously, the specific game… I wanna say it was probably 96, 97?”
Nyen, TSG: “So you were right there at the beginning?”
Trapp: “Yeah, three or four years old.”
Nyen, TSG: “Your grandfather was a semi-pro player?”
Trapp: “Yeah, he’s Greek, he was born in Greece , he came over and just played in.…. I’m not sure how to put it exactly, but the Germans had a team, the English had a team, all the immigrants had their own international league”
It becomes cliché to say that certain people are born into soccer, within North America. It is almost a way of dismissing the impact of a person in the United States choosing to love soccer over football or baseball; or a person in Canada loving Dwayne De Rosario over Sidney Crosby.
When people can’t explain why they picked soccer over American football, baseball or hockey, the given reason must be their parents or their peers were soccer players.
Now, this isn’t necessarily false.
However, as with the eternal nature versus nurture debate there is the argument that it takes both sides to create a person and their interests. It isn’t just the people who shape you but as well the location and time in which you grow up. The specifics that surround that for the current young soccer player and fan are far different than they were even 20 years ago.
Perhaps it is just as simple as how passion is transferred, sometimes through a mentor, a father or mother or sibling, but often passion gets passed to you through the simple process of absorption with those environments around you. Within this latter theory, the very fact that professional soccer at the top level within North America exists allows it to grow (slowly) within each continuing generation of North American’s that continues to be born around the time of the start of the league and afterwards.
Nyen, TSG: “Is this (soccer) something that has existed within your family life? I mean, do your mom and dad watch the game?”
Trapp: “It was never, like I mean with my grandfather obviously it was big but with my parents not really. My mom didn’t play and my dad played recreational. So I mean he didn’t, he wasn’t too into it. He played football and basketball in high school.”
Nyen, TSG: “You attend a game when you’re three years old, did you go semi-frequently… like every once in a while? Would your parents take you? When’s the first game that you can remember going?”
Trapp: “I mean, it was probably when they really built the new stadium, and it was around 2001, 2002? And we had season tickets and we would go. Those were like the games that I really remember, being there… knowing the players and the field.”
Nyen, TSG: “Did you ever do the Nordecke, did you ever actually get into a supporters group?… I mean it seems that at your age you probably didn’t have a chance.”
Trapp: “Yeah….. no… I was a little too young for that. But I mean our season tickets were kinda like the opposite of them, on the same side but the opposite corner basically. We were pretty close and could experience it a little bit, the chants.”
Soccer (sport in general) survives on the passing of tradition and stories from generation to generation. Specifically soccer’s different team traditions survive, thrive and spread because of that tradition.
When you talk about the singing of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” at Liverpool, there is a shared cultural tradition that has been passed down since the early 1960’s. When you talk about the singing of “You Are My Sunshine” at Portland Timbers games we are talking about a tradition that has been passed down since 2004. While seemingly young in age, this tradition and other moments of interpersonal cultural sharing are what help coagulate support and drive the connection between fans, team and individual players.