Coming off the field last Saturday after a game against San Diego Boca FC, Chivas USA newcomer Ben Zemanski was smiling. He had good reason to be. He has just played 60 minutes of good soccer, helping the Red-and-White to a 3-0 victory and another preseason win.
More than that, though, he's smiling because he's wearing the red and white stripes of Chivas USA and is finally getting his shot at MLS soccer.
"It's always been a dream of mine to play professionally," said Zemanski. "So to put on this Chivas jersey, I wear it with a lot of pride and a lot of honor. I'm very happy."
Zemanski was taken 47th overall in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft. He spent his college years at the University of Akron (with fellow Chivas USA draftee Blair Gavin), where he started in every game as a senior and was named to the All-Mid-American Conference second team.
"Akron is a great program," said Zemanski. "It prepared me a lot to make the jump to MLS."
Once he had gotten over the thrill of being drafted, Zemanski arrived at The Home Depot Center for Chivas USA preseason training last month and became quickly aware of the jump in play.
"I wasn't sure what to expect when I first got here," he admitted. "I knew the level was going to be high and the speed. The speed of play is definitely a little faster than college, and it took a good week to get used to the physicality. You always have to be on your toes; always be ready for anything."
Zemanski has primarily featured as a defensive midfielder since his arrival in Los Angeles, which will help the Red-and-White get over the losses of Paulo Nagamura and Jesse Marsch.
"It seems like [Chivas USA head coach] Martín [Vásquez] likes me in the defensive midfield role," said Zemanski. "I'm able to win balls in the middle of the field and link up with our backs to keep the ball moving from one side to the other."
Learning the defensive midfield role for Chivas USA has been made easier by the presence of second-year man Michael Lahoud, a player who was in Zemanski's position almost exactly a year ago.
"Guys like Mike Lahoud have helped me out in the midfield," said Zemanski. "Just little things he's been saying, and watching him play. It's been like that all preseason. I've learned a lot from [the veterans] and they've helped me out a ton."
Boasting six wins out of seven preseason scrimmages thus far, Chivas USA now hit the road to Phoenix, Ariz., where the team will face its first MLS competition of the year in the form of Kansas City and Columbus.
It's a challenge for which Zemanski is more than ready.
"We've been moving in the right direction with every game and every practice," he said. "We just have to keep working, and keep finding ways to exploit the space. I think we'll be ready."