Former Crew midfielder Brian Maisonneuve has had the misfortune of coming across one of his former US Under-17 pupils in each of the past two NCAA Tournaments while serving as an assistant at Indiana.
While Ben Speas helped eliminate the Hoosiers in the Sweet 16 each time en route to winning a pair of national titles – the first with Akron in 2010 and again in December after transferring to North Carolina – Maisonneuve was effusive in praising the Crew’s latest signee.
“I think he’s a great pickup for the Crew not only for his play on the field but when you look at the work he can provide for the community, he’s a great role model,” he said. “He’s a very good kid.”
Speas, who turns 21 on Jan. 17, eschewed his final season at North Carolina after scoring the winning goal against Charlotte in the College Cup final on Dec. 11 to sign a Home Grown Player contract with Columbus on Thursday, fulfilling a goal for the Stow, Ohio, native.
“I couldn’t pass it up,” Speas said. “I wouldn’t want to play for any other team but the Crew. I grew up watching them my whole life. I’ve always wanted to play there and wear the black and gold.”
Speas first met Maisonneuve in 2008 at the U-17 residency camp in Bradenton, Fla., and found the experience surreal.
“[Maisonneuve] taught me a lot," he said. "I’ll never forget it. Having seen him play for the Crew and wanting to play for them, then having him as my coach was like a dream come true.”
Speas, who is listed at 5-foot-8 and 155 pounds, played in the midfield at Akron for two seasons and then up top in his lone year with the Tar Heels.
He totaled 11 goals and 16 assists in 76 games (40 starts) for the two programs. He had 24 points (7 goals, 10 assists) this past season, most notably scoring on left-footed strike just outside the box against UNC Charlotte for the 1-0 victory in the final.
The captivating dribble and shoot was not surprising to Crew Juniors executive director Andrew Arthurs after watching Speas develop in the Crew Soccer Academy.
“He’s got crazy stuff like that,” Arthurs said. “It was pretty apparent to us he’s got some different stuff on the ball.”
Said Speas of his style: “I like to have the ball at my feet and have an attacking position and dribble at the back four, whether it’s from midfield or forward.”
He will need time to transition to the pro game, but his path to minutes for the Crew could be a little easier now that it appears out-of-contract midfielders Robbie Rogers and Emmanuel Ekpo won't return for 2012.
“He can be a wide midfielder,” Crew coach Robert Warzycha said. “Obviously with Robbie not coming back, and Ekpo’s not coming back, he’s going to be a good addition.”
Speas is the third Home Grown the Crew has signed, joining forward Aaron Horton in May and goalkeeper Matt Lampson last month.
“It’s a confirmation that we’re doing things correctly,” team technical director Brian Bliss said.
But Bliss likely didn’t need to make a major pitch to get the latest player into the organization.
“That’s been my dream my whole life,” Speas said. “I feel blessed to be given this opportunity. Now that it’s finally here I couldn’t be happier with the road I’ve taken.”