When the Columbus Crew signed Ben Speas to a Homegrown contract in January 2012, one of the things that impressed team officials was his ability to strike from seemingly anywhere with a pinpoint shot, an observation largely based on his highlight-reel game-winning goal for the University of North Carolina in the 2011 College Cup.
Now Speas, in just his fourth pro start, has another skillful goal to add to his collection. He netted his first MLS goal in the 58th minute of Saturday's clash with D.C. United to lift the Crew to a 2-1 victory at RFK Stadium, lining up a laser from just inside the 18 that once more stood up as the game-winner.
He dedicated the goal to UNC and Columbus teammate Kirk Urso, who died suddenly from an undetected heart defect on Aug. 5, by pointing toward the sky as he celebrated the goal. As it happened, the Crew were in Washington last year when they learned of his death.
"I thought about that yesterday and I knew my first goal was going to be to [for] him and I wanted to get it today," Speas said. "It's just special."
After battling injury for much of the year, Speas started the 2012 regular season finale against Toronto FC and was expected to get more minutes at some point this season, but an injury to Eddie Gaven in the season opener paved the way for the 22-year-old to make the first XI against Vancouver, where he got his first assist, and then last week against San Jose.
The absence of forward Jairo Arrieta due to his Costa Rica national team duties afforded coach Robert Warzycha the chance to play a healthy Gaven with Speas on the flanks as the speedy Dominic Oduro moved from the midfield up into Arrieta's spot.
But it was defender Josh Williams who got the Crew's first goal in the 15th minute off a set piece, his team-leading second goal of the year.
"I'm just happy to contribute on the offensive end," he said. "I'm definitely going to rub it in to the forwards a little bit, as long as I can hold onto it as much as I can."