Second-year Homegrown Player Ben Speas knows there will be ups and downs in his first season as a starter.
The winger has started in six of the Crew's seven matches of 2013 after missing most of his rookie season due to hernia surgery. He returned mid-way through 2012 to score the game-winning goal in a 2-1 friendly victory over English Premier League side Stoke City FC and making his MLS debut in the Black & Gold's final match of the season against Toronto FC.
After a hot start that saw Speas score his first MLS goal and chip in his first career assist in his first three starts of 2013, the winger has cooled off as his name has become more prominent on opposing teams' scouting reports.
"It's a challenge," Speas explained. "All teams are different and there will be different types of defenders on me. It's nice to go against different people, but it's also sometimes a challenge to figure out what is going to work best whether its facing up with them or getting behind them. I feel like I'm still learning, and just trying to do whatever I can to help the team."
Speas' impact was limited in the Crew's last match, a 1-0 loss to the Chicago Fire on April 20, as defender Wells Thompson smothered the winger on the left side of the Black & Gold's attack. Learning to adapt to different defenders and styles will be key in the 22-year-old's development.
"I felt like the defender that was on me, Wells Thompson, was really aggressive," He said of the Chicago defender. "He was on my back, I was trying to get away from him to get space and he kept putting pressure on me. That's how it's going to be. I've got to get used to it. I've got to learn to deal with it, and get better and be able to give the team more in the attack."
After being thrust into the starting lineup last season, Speas' teammate Josh Williams knows the difficulty of putting in consistent performances game-in and game-out as a young player in MLS. Williams started in 27 matches in 2012 after not making a single MLS appearance in his first two seasons with the Crew.
Williams has been supportive of Speas through his recent struggle.
"You're going to have ups and downs," Williams said. "[Speas] started out hot, and I didn't really say anything to him. I kind of stayed away from him. He'd be the first person to say he had a shaky performance against Chicago. "
The defender continued: "He's a smart kid, a bright guy. This isn't his first soccer game. He realizes there are ups and downs in the game. I just try to be the positive guy and tell him to keep wigglin', keep playing with confidence and doing what he's been doing."
Speas' ability to dribble at defenders and create his own chances has been an asset in the Black & Gold attack this season. Those skills, coupled with his hard work each day in training, has made him Head Coach Robert Warzycha's first choice on the left side of the Crew midfield.
"Ben performs in practice," Warzycha explained. "He's showed he is the best person in that position and that is why he is playing. I'm not frustrated with him. Obviously, he's going to have better games and poorer games, but overall I think he's doing well."
Warzycha believes his confidence in Speas is crucial for the winger to remain confident himself.
"I think it's important for the player that the coach has confidence in him," the Head Coach said. "I think I've given him confidence that he is the first choice and he's on the field every week."
Despite his coach's assurance, Speas isn't taking anything for granted. He knows it is easy to be replaced if he fails to perform.
"Just because I've started these games doesn't mean I'll start the next," he said.
"I'm trying to work hard every day just to help out and put my name in the mix to be out there on gameday."