OBETZ, Ohio – After playing in 19 games in 2013, Ben Speas has yet to step onto the field for the Columbus Crew in 2014. But that may change this weekend as the Crew visit rivals Toronto FC without star playmaker Federico Higuain (5 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
The Homegrown player and North Carolina product had grown accustomed to frequent playing time, last season, and adjusting to his new role on the bench has left him feeling frustrated.
“It's not easy,” Speas told MLSsoccer.com after Crew training Wednesday. “It was nice to play that much, and now it's just a different thing. I'm not used to it. I'm just trying to be there for my teammates and, when called upon, be ready.”
Crew coach Gregg Berhalter has said all season that he views Speas as a backup to Higuain in the Argentine's favored position behind the striker. And with Higuain suspended for Saturday's trip to Toronto due to yellow card accumulation, Speas might have a chance to play, though Berhalter isn't tipping his hand.
“I think we're all going to miss [Higuain], but there's an opportunity, so I'm just trying to be ready like I have been when called upon,” Speas said. “If the coaches decide to put me in there, I’ll be ready and I'm just going to work hard this week to stay sharp.”
While Speas has largely played on the wing during his time with the Crew, he says he's happy playing in the attacking midfield role, and after spending time there during training and preseason, he thinks he can make an impact if called upon.
“I like to play in the middle,” he said. “I like to create and play balls through... I think I’ve got the hang of the position for sure, where I need to be, when I need to get the ball and things like that. I feel like I've got a good understanding of it, and it's just a matter of doing it in the game.”
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It's been clear this season that Berhalter has wanted to see more from Speas, and there have been rumors of loan deals involving the Homegrown talent. Whether with the Crew's USL PRO affiliates the Dayton Dutch Lions or another team, Speas admitted he'd like to be playing somewhere, but wouldn't confirm if a loan is in the works.
“That's kind of between me and Gregg,” he said. “We're just trying to get games. I'm still developing and younger, so obviously I'm just trying to get minutes, I think that's important. Wherever that is – I would love for that to be with the Crew – it's important to get minutes.”
Just days before the match in Toronto, does Speas see himself as a starter?
“I'm not sure,” he said. “I'll be ready. I hope so. I want to play. I want to play just as badly as everyone else. I'm just trying to be there for my teammates but at the same time, working hard to separate myself to try and get on the pitch.”