trapp armband captain
Daniel Herlensky / Columbus Crew SC Communications

SIRK’S NOTEBOOK: Black & Gold Armbands

As Homegrown Columbus Crew SC captain Wil Trapp prepares to make his 100th career MLS appearance this Saturday vs. Toronto FC, let’s take a look at the history of the Black & Gold’s captaincy.

Crew SC Director of Communications Tim Miller mentioned to me that this was never chronicled in old media guides, so it sent me down the research rabbit hole. This list is based on research of published materials. It lists the person either named captain outright and/or the person who appeared in published articles as the captain. It does not count one-off injury absences or national team call-ups. (Trapp himself has worn the armband in such occasions prior to being name captain in 2017.)

Someday, using game photos and broadcast archives, it might be neat to figure out the captaincy on a game-by-game basis since 1996, but that is well beyond the scope of this story, which is looking at THE captain for a given year, with the exception of a few anomalous seasons, which will be explained accordingly.

Ages given are the player’s age at the start of the season.

1996 captain: Doctor Khumalo (Age 28)

A star midfielder for Kaizer Chiefs and the South African National Team, Khumalo was billed as “The Michael Jordan of South Africa” when he arrived in Columbus. He scored three goals and added two assists in 25 games in 1996, but his Central Ohio star power would be immediately outshined by Brian McBride, and season-altering summer addition of goalkeeper Brad Friedel.

1997 captain: Marcelo Carrera (33) 

“The Maestro” was named captain prior to the 1997 season, but how often he actually wore the armband is another matter. The Argentine attacker only made 14 starts in 1997, so in the majority of games, the armband would have been worn by others. There are no newspaper references to these others, but I have seen photos of Friedel wearing the armband. Also, Thomas Dooley came to Columbus that year, so it’s also possible he saw some armband action in 1997 too. Or maybe even another respected veteran like Robert Warzycha.

However, Carrera was officially named captain at the beginning of the year, so that’s the name that goes on the list. (This is one of those years where the much bigger game-by-game photo/video research project would be interesting. In fact, it may be necessary. The Columbus Dispatch posted a photo gallery this morning from the Ohio Stadium days and there’s a photo of Carrera from April 13, 1997, not wearing the armband, despite starting the game.

So he’s listed as captain here because he was named captain prior to the season, but game-by-game photo analysis would be necessary to provide a clearer picture of 1997.)

1998 captain: Thomas Dooley (36)

The longtime Bundesliga veteran won MLS Best XI honors in 1997 after signing with Columbus. In 1998, he assumed the captaincy and once again was named to the MLS Best XI. His 1998 season in Columbus was interrupted as he also captained the United States in the 1998 World Cup in France.

There are no newspaper references to who wore the armband in Columbus during his absence.

1999 captains:

Dooley (37), Brian McBride (26), Mike Lapper (28)

This season was interesting because at the beginning of the year, I can find references to Dooley as captain. In the middle of the year, I can find references to McBride as captain. Later in the year, I can find references to Lapper as captain. When I asked Black & Gold alum Mike Clark about these random variations, and whether Dooley was stripped of his captaincy due to conflicts with head coach Tom Fitzgerald, Clark said that wasn’t the case. He explained that the captaincy wasn’t as formal then as it was now, and in some cases during those early years, the players themselves would decide who wore the armband in any given game. Based on that comment, and newspaper references to all three guys, I am just going to list all three of them, but in a way, there wasn’t really a true captain as we think of it now.

2000 captain: Mike Lapper (29)

The veteran defender with World Cup experience picked up where he left off at the end of 1999, but this time as THE guy for 2000.

2001 captain: Mike Clark (27)

By the time 2001 rolled around, Clark had appeared in 143 matches for the Black & Gold had was coming off an All-Star season in 2000. A hard-nosed player and trash-talker extraordinaire, Clark had grown into a leadership role in Columbus and put up another All-Star season in 2001 while wearing the armband.

2002 captains:

McBride (29), Brian Maisonneuve (28), Tom Presthus (26)

Head coach Greg Andrulis decided to take the tri-captain approach in 2002. Unlike 1999’s rotating captains, this triumvirate was by intentional design. McBride and Maisonneuve were Black & Gold originals who had become All-Stars with World Cup experience. Perhaps the biggest impact among these tri-captains, however, belonged to Tom Presthus. An MLS Cup champion with D.C. United, Presthus lost his starting goalkeeping job to upstart understudy Jon Busch. Rather than sulking, Presthus supported and mentored Busch, who backstopped Columbus to the 2002 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championship that year.

That’s some great captain work right there.

2003 captain: Mike Clark (29)

I asked Clark last week why he was captain in 2001, then they ditched him and it took THREE guys to replace him in 2002, and then they gave the job back to him again in 2003. “I strongly believe in term limits,” he joked.

Clark is the Grover Cleveland of Black & Gold captains, serving two non-consecutive terms.

2004 captain: Robin Fraser (37)

This is about as brilliant as a captaincy gets.

Columbus acquired MLS vet Fraser, who had won a Supporters’ Shield in 1998 and the MLS Defender of the Year Award in 1999, and then saw him immediately duplicate both feats in Black & Gold in 2004, all while mentoring a rookie center back by the name of Chad Marshall.

That worked out well.

2005 captain: Robin Fraser (38)

No trophies and no individual honors the second time around, in what would be his final season as a player, but there was another year of molding young Chad Marshall.

Again, that worked out well.

2006 captains:

Frankie Hejduk (31), Ritchie Kotschau (30), Duncan Oughton (28)

This was not a tri-captain situation, and it’s the one exception to the guys who wear the armband due to injury rule.

That’s because 2006 was unique and really fell into three distinct phases. Hejduk and Oughton were the heart and soul of the club at that point and were clearly leaders when Sigi Schmid began his housecleaning and rebuild of the Columbus roster. Hejduk was named captain but tore his ACL just four games into the season.

Oughton, meanwhile, was still recovering from experimental knee surgery.

Into the void stepped MLS vet Ritchie Kotschau, who wore the armband for 17 games, bridging the gap between The Dude and The Kiwi. Once Oughton was cleared to play, he immediately shifted into the starting lineup and wore the armband in all nine of his starts to close out the season. Since this wasn’t haphazard and all three guys were the clear and undisputed captain during the three phases of the season, I’m listing all three.

2007 captain: Frankie Hejduk (32)

I mean, it’s Frankie.

He runs all day, he psyches people up, and he’s played in two World Cups.

2008 captain: Frankie Hejduk (33)

Captained the team to the Supporters’ Shield and an MLS Cup championship, including an iconic clinching goal in the 3-1 title game triumph.

2009 captain: Frankie Hejduk (34)

Another Supporters’ Shield.

2010 captain: Frankie Hejduk (35)

Finished his Columbus career with 147 appearances, seven goals, 16 assists, two Supporters’ Shields, one MLS Cup, several hundred two-footed tackles that neither maimed someone nor earned a card, and eleventy-bajillion utterances of the word “dude” in postgame interviews.

2011 captain: Chad Marshall (26)

A two-time MLS Defender of the Year, three-time Supporters’ Shield winner, an MLS Cup champion, and scorer of an iconic playoff goal over Brian McBride, followed by the winning goal in MLS Cup, Marshall took the armband in 2011 after the veteran purge following the 2010 season.

Given his resume to that point, it’s hard to believe that Marshall was only 26 at the time. Unreal.

2012 captain: Chad Marshall (27)

Encountered a challenge unlike anything most any captain ever has to face — the tragic loss of a teammate. Marshall and the other veteran leaders had to navigate some tricky waters, not just within the locker room, but with the club and the league after the unexpected passing of Kirk Urso due to an undetected congenital heart defect.

2013 captain: Federico Higuain (28)

After winning MLS Newcomer of the Year in 2012 by racking up five goals and seven assists in 13 appearances, Higuain was given the armband for 2013. He was the engine that made the offense go, and he would go on to tally 11 goals and nine assists that year.

2014 captain: Michael Parkhurst (30)

One of the first moves of the Gregg Berhalter era was to bring in the highly respected Parkhurst and install him as captain. It was also thought that Parkhurst would be representing the United States in that summer’s World Cup, but he was a last-second cut by Jurgen Klinsmann. The crushing disappointment did not get in the way of Parkhust captaining the Black & Gold to their first playoff appearance in three years.

2015 captain: Michael Parkhurst (31)

After suffering MLS Cup defeats three times with New England, Parkhurst captained Columbus to the title game in 2015. That Parkhurst had to endure another gut-wrenching defeat in the final was one of the most heartbreaking aspects of Crew SC’s 2-1 home loss to the Portland Timbers.

2016 captain: Michael Parkhurst (32)

Parkhurst’s final season in Columbus did not go as anyone envisioned. So close to winning it all in 2015, the Black & Gold missed the playoffs in 2016.

2017 captain: Wil Trapp (24)

At age 24, Trapp is the youngest captain in Columbus Crew SC history. The Gahanna native is also the first Ohioan to formally hold the title of captain. (As mentioned earlier, I have seen photos of Friedel with the armband, so there has been at least one other Ohio captain in a game-by-game sense, but just not on a formal season-long basis.) Berhalter began grooming Trapp for his role upon taking over the club, naming the then 21-year-old as Vice-Captain in 2014, learning the ropes from Parkhurst for three years before taking the armband in 2017.

Trapp is already about to make his 100th appearance for Crew SC, but given his youth and his recent contract extension, there may not be another name on this list for a good long while.

The Black & Gold return home for the first leg of the Trillium Cup against Toronto FC 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.

Questions? Comments? Agree or disagree that I was right to exclude McBride from the Grover Cleveland joke since his two stints involved tri-captains and not being the singular figurehead like Mike Clark (and Grover Cleveland)? Feel free to write at sirk65@yahoo.com or via twitter @stevesirk
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