COLUMBUS — A common refrain among professional sports teams is “focusing on the field and tuning out distractions.” It’s hard to imagine a distraction larger than the relocation of a franchise.
The ambiguous future of Columbus Crew SC hasn’t gotten any less murky since the news of a potential move to Austin first broke in October of 2017. In the midst of the city council meetings, courtroom briefings and social media spats, it can be easy to forget that things are still happening on the field.
Earlier this month, with little fanfare, Crew SC captain Wil Trapp achieved a small but important milestone. He passed former Crew player and Columbus native Danny O’Rourke in minutes played for the franchise. Trapp now has 12,418 minutes, which places him eighth all-time in most minutes played for Columbus and No. 1 among Columbus-area natives, a point of pride for any homegrown player.
The only Ohio-born player ahead of him is former player Mike Clark (18,942 minutes), who is from Dayton, Ohio, and played with the Crew from 1996-2003. Trapp would need to play more than 72 additional full games to surpass Clark — but he may never get that chance.
“As a kid, you always want to become a professional and to be in your home town,” Trapp said. “You grow up watching the games, you know a lot of the fans personally. You’re forging new ties and building upon the ones you already had.”
Trapp’s ties to the Crew have been present throughout his life.
“I have a photo of [Mike Clark] from when I was six years old, my brother and I,” Trapp said.
Now that childhood icon has watched Trapp grow.
“I love Wil Trapp. The more I watch him, the more I enjoy watching him,” Clark said, “I’ve seen him grow as a player and a leader. I think he’s a great captain. … He’s earned the respect of his teammates and always seems composed in front of the camera and on the field.”
That composure was evident in Trapp even at the start of his career.
“I remember in  preseason in Florida, you could tell he was special” O’Rourke said. “This kid has got that ‘it’ factor. Outside of the field, he was just a real stand-up guy.”
And now Trapp is facing a possibility no Crew captain has before — being the last one.
“We’ve been living with it now for 10-plus months. For me, it’s different because I’m a player and that’s my job, to play and win games and do everything we can to keep this club exciting for the fans and for the city,” Trapp said. “To be overly vocal on social media or in the media just distracts our team from our mission, which is to win a championship this year. I think we’ve handled it well. I’ve tried to handle it as best I can because obviously there are emotions wrapped around in it. Yes, there are emotions, but it’s my job. It’s my job to win, to play. You can’t let emotions take over what you’re trying to do.”
Those emotions aren’t just a factor for present players. It’s a ripple effect that touches every generation of Crew legends and fans, and those to come.
“I wish it didn’t have to come to this, but that’s American sports,” O’Rourke said. “More so than like the Seattle Supersonics, or the Cleveland Browns, or the San Diego Chargers, soccer is more of a community-based sport. By taking that away from Columbus … you’re ripping this fabric that’s been around since the start of the league. If I ever see myself moving back to Columbus and having children, being able to take them back and say, ‘Your dad was a part of this great team that did some great things back in the day,’ to not be able to do that would weigh heavy on my heart.”
Said Clark: “It’s gutting. I’m a firm believer that the Crew can’t leave Columbus. Precourt can take those players to wherever, but he won’t be taking the Crew. He’ll be taking the bodies that comprise the team. … I really find it hard to believe that the league would make the decision to take the charter member of MLS away from the city of Columbus. If Precourt gets his wish and gets a team wherever, in Austin or wherever it may be, whether it’s local ownership or something is worked out, the Crew will never leave Columbus. There will always be a team in Columbus. That’s my hope.”
O’Rourke said he credits the fans for channeling their anger and frustration into campaign that is bringing the potential relocation to the attention of sports lovers nationwide.
“They’re spreading the word. Who knows if it will have tangible effects, but it could,” O’Rourke said. “We can really get out there as a unit and as a community and show other supporters and other groups that people are really feeling for these fans…I’m super proud. The bumper stickers, the signs around town, I hope a year from now everyone will get together and say, ‘We were part of this movement that kept the Crew here.’”
Clark agrees. He called the #SaveTheCrew movement “just awesome,” and said it’s incredible to see the passion of the people.
“The people that have been at the forefront of this movement, the amount of time, effort, their own money that they’ve sacrificed, it’s incredible. … The save the crew movement has taken the right approach. They’re showing the world their support of the team. With social media, all the other MLS teams that have supported the Crew’s efforts with #SaveTheCrew signs, even our competitor’s stands. All around the world you see save the Crew stuff.
“It makes you feel really good that you’re a part of something that means this much to people’s lives. I can’t imagine an ownership group not looking at that and saying, ‘I’d love to have a customer base that is that loyal.’”
As the season continues on, it may be harder and harder to separate the off-field issues from the games on the field. Questions will become more pressing: Will this be the last time seeing an opponent? The last home game? The last Crew game, period?
Players will be asking. Fans in the stands will be asking. And in the middle will be Wil Trapp, who’s been on both sides, trying to captain a ship that might be sinking.