BRIAN SCIARETTA - Monday, April 15, 2013
After missing out on the postseason in 2012, the Columbus Crew is looking to return the MLS Cup playoffs in 2013 and Ben Speas is aiming to be a key contributor.

Speas, 22, signed a homegrown contract last year with the Crew and has been a big part of the team's early season success. After preseason, it was unclear how much of a role Speas would play under head coach Robert Warzycha but in the early going he has emerged as a regular starter for the vastly improved club.

Through the first six games of the season, the Crew currently sits in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. The club, however, is in better position than the standings indicate because just two games so far have been at home. After next weekend's visit to Chicago, the Crew will return home for three straight.

On March 23, Speas scored his first MLS goal in a 2-1 win over DC United but he has consistently been dangerous for the Crew in 2013. Overall he is pleased with his team's performance and believes the Crew is capable of having a strong season this year.

"It's good to be out there contributing and helping the team out," Speas told Full Volley. "I'm excited to be out there doing whatever I can to help the team. I think that we definitely have some great pieces. We can be a great team going forward. We're taking each game at time and cutting it into months. We're looking to build on it. We have some great pieces. We feel that if we keep performing we can be pleased as we get closer to the post season."

When Speas signed last year with the Crew he did so after a remarkable collegiate career that began with Akron in 2009. He advanced to the NCAA title game in each of his first two seasons with the Zips and won the championship in 2010. He then transferred to the University of North Carolina in 2011 and won a second title in his only year with the Tar Heels.

In 2012 Speas signed with the Crew as a homegrown signing and in his first year he struggled to earn playing time appearing in just one MLS game. This year, however, it appears things will be very different as his play early in the season could be a key factor in the Crew's resurgence.

The transition from college to the professional ranks is not an easy one and even several of the best collegiate players fail to make an impact at the higher levels. For Speas, he understands what that jump entails.

"It's definitely a big jump from college to professional level," Speas explained. "I feel like in order to be successful at the professional level, you have to be professional all around; whether it's taking care of your body, you deal with so many different things. College season is relatively short and you can just focus on that amount of time and for the rest of the year you can kind of relax. For professional, you have to love what you're doing in order to want to get better. You always have to be improving you're game. Players that want to do that and love it are the ones that can succeed."

Following Aaron Horton and Matt Lampson, Speas was the third ever homegrown signing by the Crew. Subsequently the club also added local products Kyle Hyland, Chad Barson, and Wil Trapp.

Speas grew up in Stow, Ohio and was a fan of the Crew as a young player in Ohio. As one of the smaller markets in the league, the avenues for becoming a professional are not the same for players in major cities such as Los Angeles or New York. After leaving the US U-17 residency program, Speas was unsure what opportunities would be there for him but fortunately the Crew Academy was evolving during that time.

For Speas, he is truly a product of the Ohio area and has noticed improvement in the development of young players in his native area.

"I feel it's definitely gotten a lot better," Speas said. "As I talk to kids now who are going through the same thing, I tell them to get involved in one of the Developmental Academy teams. The Crew Academy really helped me. I was coming from residency with U17s and that was obviously a different world from club soccer. I was used to that. Coming back I was kind of nervous there wasn't a place I could get better. The Crew Academy came and that was a blessing. It really helped my game and all the resources the Crew put towards the Academy really helped us grow as players and it's paying off for them because there are seven of us on the first team."

This year will be a pivotal year for Speas as he looks to lay the foundation for his career. An increased role with the Crew in the starting lineup is a big step from last year but Speas is happy to repay the club for the role they have played in developing him both as member of the Academy and as a professional player on the first team.

Speas is confident in both the team's potential to contend for an MLS Cup and in his ability to improve overall as a player.

"I'm not going to say I want to have a certain number of goals," Speas said. "That's not the kind of person I would be. I think that I want to focus on is continuously be consistent. I want to become a better player overall and I want to be dangerous when I get the ball. I want to take all my opportunities and help my team out. If I'm going to do those things, other things will come."

"I grew up a Crew fan and being able to play for them is a dream-come true," he concluded. "I also feel they helped developed me and I'm just trying to give back and do whatever I can to help the success of the team."

The Columbus Crew return to action this Saturday with a visit to Chicago to take on the Fire.

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Tab Ramos, Under-20 World Cup, United States