Columbus Crew SC represents both the state of Ohio and its capital city as Major League Soccer's first Charter Member both on the field and off it with 23 different players calling Ohio home throughout the Club's 20-plus years of existence.
The 2017 team does so with a special connection to its roots: boasting five players that list cities in Ohio as their hometowns and three others with deep-lying connections to the state. To boot, the back of every 2017 jersey is emblazoned with the state flag.
This Saturday's home match against Toronto FC at MAPFRE Stadium is poised to be special for Black & Gold Homegrown Player, Captain and midfielder Wil Trapp as the iconic relationship between club and state will be definitively illustrated: if he plays, it will stand as his 100th appearance in MLS for Crew SC — his home team.
Trapp joins teammates Josh Williams, Brad Stuver and fellow Homegrown Players Ben Swanson and Alex Crognale as Ohio-born-and-bred members of the Crew SC roster. Adding in midfielders Mohammed Abu (wife previously lived in Columbus), Abuchi Obinwa (born in Columbus before moving to Orlando, Fla.) and Lalas Abubakar (attended the University of Dayton), Ohio is unmistakably woven into the makeup of Crew SC.
“We’re lucky," Trapp said. "I get to not only play a game that I love for a living, but it’s for my home team — the fans are people I know. This is community for me. The supporters are with us through thick and thin, and we see that — we appreciate that. It’s so special to play on that field with my friends and family. I’m very fortunate.”
Through their very young careers — the five Ohio-natives share an average age of just 23-years-old — have already made 189 appearances for Crew SC throughout the regular season and postseason. Every one of those Columbus caps carry a special and significant meaning.
“It’s hard not to be cliche," Crew SC defender and Copley, Ohio, native Williams said. "To me, there’s something special about the team you’ve grown up rooting for. You never forget the emotions that team brings — its connected to the special moments in your life. Then to make it playing as a professional for the team you actually grew up idolizing and having that connection with, it gets emotional to wear that crest.
Williams is the most seasoned professional in Crew SC's Ohio contingent. The 28-year-old was already a 46-game veteran before Trapp made his first appearance in 2013. In the midst of his eighth season as a professional, Williams is the only Ohio-based Crew SC player to know what it's like to play for any team other than Crew SC — he won the Eastern Conference championship with Toronto in 2016 and featured for New York City FC in 2015.
"To play for Columbus, its special and it carries weight — the weight of your family, community and so much of your DNA. It’s not a bad weight either, that's what I love so much. To play for my home state’s top professional team, it’s a feeling I could never get anywhere else. It’s love: love for the team, for the fans, for the history, for your own personal psychology.”
Williams' connection is even deeper, having played with current teammate and Crew SC goalkeeper Stuver at Cleveland State University and for the Cleveland Internationals before beginning their professional careers.
Stuver and Williams have been reunited after Williams' re-signing with Crew SC in January.
Stuver, 25, has two MLS regular-season starts with eight saves and signature appearances in international friendlies against Spain's Valencia CF and Mexico's Veracruz and in the U.S. Open Cup against the Richmond Kickers and Tampa Bay Rowdies.
“I can’t really put it into words," Stuver said, referring to his signing with Crew SC. "It’s one of those moments in life: I remember coming down from Cleveland with my dad and brother to tailgate before games as a kid. I remember looking up at the stadium and seeing those players: the Frankie Hejduks, Brad Friedels and (Guillermo Barros) Schelottos — all these guys, the legends. And then, once I signed, and walked into the locker room and seeing the pictures and achievements — just knowing you’re a part of the same Club as those guys, I was speechless.”
He has been a part of Crew SC's matchday 18-man lineup in 62 of the club's 65 MLS matches since 2015.
“I remember, as a kid, looking down from the stands and wondering what it would be like to play in front of all the supporters," he said. "Now, I know we have thousands of people watching, cheering for and supporting us — it’s one of those things, you can’t take it for granted. During warmups, I love interacting with the Nordecke — they are always there, no matter what. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
For those raised even closer to Columbus — like Gahanna's Trapp and Crognale and Grove City's Swanson — the feelings are equally endearing.
“It’s been such an unbelievable experience," first-year Homegrown defender Crognale said. "It’s awesome — there’s no other way to describe it. With the support that I have from family and friends at every match, its been great so far. It excites me to know this is only the beginning; I’ve only played four games into my career — just two at MAPFRE Stadium. I’m excited to keep pushing and to keep getting games.”
Swanson, a U.S. Youth National Team Standout, signed with Crew SC's First Team as a 17-year-old.
“You grow up in the Academy, its always special when you wear the jersey of the Club that’s trusted you through your development all along," Swanson said. "It’s unique to become a player for the team you grew up cheering for. Not many people get the opportunity to be home while chasing their dreams. It’s definitely unique and I don’t take it for granted that the people I grew up with are so close and so supportive.”
For Trapp, whose wedding was in December and signed a multi-year contract extension in March, the shared experiences with loved ones have only just begun.
“It’s special to have friends and family at every game, having them so close," Trapp said. "My family is here, my wife’s family is all just an hour north of Columbus — so they are here. That connection is so special to me and to know that the most important people in our life together are all able to experience and support from the stands, it’s unbelievable. It’s been fun so far, and the best part is that there are still many, many more games to come.”
The Black & Gold return to Ohio for their fourth home match of 2017 against Toronto FC for the first leg of the Trillium Cup on April 15 for an 8 p.m. kickoff at MAPFRE Stadium. The match is the first Trillium Cup meeting of the year in the regular-season series that determines the victor of the trophy. The two teams will play on May 10 at MAPFRE Stadium before a May 26 clash at BMO Field. The Black & Gold have won the Trillium Cup six out of the nine years it has been contested. The two clubs began battling for the trophy during the 2008 campaign and the Black & Gold were victorious in the regular-season series for the first three years of Trillium Cup action.