Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Trapp and Tchani, and What’s Wrong in Columbus

So long as you don't care if it goes in the hole, you're good!

This should go without saying, but because I don’t recall saying this anywhere else, I may as well get it out there now: the Portland Timbers are the only team in Major League Soccer on which I feel meaningfully qualified to comment. Even then, I should confess to civilian status – e.g., I’ve never coached anyone and my outdoor playing experience arguably topped out when I played on a Jewish rec-league in Washington D.C.

Got it? Good. Now, let me explain why Tony Tchani and Wil Trapp should never share the same midfield.

As recently as late last season, I posted previews for Columbus Crew SC that flagged the Tchani/Trapp combo as a one of their strengths. They both have something to recommend them: Trapp hits one hell of an accurate long ball from deep positions and he was good enough at close distribution, too; Tchani, meanwhile, provides an imposing presence in midfield and he strokes a perfectly-weighted pass into the attacking channels better than 75-80% of MLS midfielders. It’s not surprising, then, the Crew SC wants both players on the field.

And that’s where it breaks down for me. Are Trapp’s and Tchani’s skill-sets complementary?

Here’s what I’m seeing: send Tchani forward to a place where he hits those lovely passes into channels for (most often) Ethan Finlay and Federico Higuain, and you leave Trapp, a player generally thought to be a bit soft defensively, to cover the defense; keep Tchani back there for the defensive cover and push Trapp forward and you’ve put Trapp in a place where he’s less effective (no pinhead-precise long passes); further, that pulls Tchani back far enough to raise the degree of difficulty on those channel passes. Keep both players back there and, sure, you’ve got defensive stability, but you’ve also got a big gap to the forwards.

Near as I can tell, Columbus asks Higuain and wide players like Harrison Afful and Waylon Francis to keep the offense and defense connected. It all worked well enough last season, certainly, but it stopped this year – and that was even with Higuain on the field (in other words, the breakdown predates Mohamed Saied’s recent deputizing in Higuain’s role). This breakdown, assuming it’s real, could very well get at why I’m seeing Tchani roaming into the attack so much this year (and look whatshowed up, like right now, as I’m writing). And that leaves Trapp at the back. Hmm…

To float a theory, this sets up a situation where Columbus can either attack or defend, but not both. For instance, I’m pretty sure I’ve commented on how exposed Michael Parkhurst looks back there (not looking for it; just…take my word for it) and, till further notice, I like the dichotomous nature of Crew SC’s game-state as an explanation.

I’ll end by returning where I started – e.g. with a caveat. If you don’t watch a team every week, and for the entire game, you can’t really have a firm grasp on their issues and, no less significantly, their options. Higuain will be back at some point (right?), but, per the above, I don’t see these issues going away. At least not until Gregg Berhalter pairs either Trapp or Tchani with another midfielder who will let one or the other be all he can be.

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