Crew Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter has said on occasion that in MLS, no team is ever completely at full-strength. Condensed schedules, injuries and variations in form are commonplace. Depth becomes important as the summer months roll along.
That's what makes players like Crew attacker Ben Speas so vital. The Homegrown Player's versatility has been on display for the Black & Gold this year and throughout his MLS career. Capable of playing anywhere along the attacking front, Speas has made starts at both central attacking midfielder and left wing in 2014, adding an additional start at right wing in the Crew's international friendly against Crystal Palace FC.
Of Speas' six League starts this season, three have come centrally and three have come out wide on the left side, with additional substitute appearances in the middle of the field on his ledger. Despite the vast differences between the two positions, the Stow native has no preference as to where he plays and is happy to contribute no matter where he lines up.
"Either one. They're different," said Speas. "I like in the middle. It was nice to play there for four or five games. It's [also] been nice on the outside; you get a little bit more room to dribble and do things on the outside, which is nice. I don't really have a preference. I like both of them. Right now I'm on the outside, so I'm trying to tuck in a little bit and find the final ball."
While much of attacking play is instinctual, there are clear tactical differences in the two positions that must be adjusted to on the fly, Speas explained.
"In the middle, you're finding those little spaces, you're not moving as much, you're not up and down. You're kind of the playmaker, so you're switching the ball. You're trying to find the ball off of [central midfielders] Wil [Trapp] and Tony [Tchani].
"On the outside more, you're kind of waiting until Pipa gets the ball. You're making your move from there, whether it be behind, or if Pipa's covered, I'm trying to get the ball and slide in that spot. There's a little bit of a difference. I think it's similar how they have us play with us tucking in on the outside. It's somewhat similar, but it's a little different."
With two consecutive starts now at left wing, Speas called his recent performances "okay," but stressed that team success comes first.
"I think the win [two weeks ago] was more important and we have a little bitter taste in our mouth from the Toronto loss. It was unfortunate," said Speas. "I'm just trying to be active, finding those spaces in between the lines and make things happen on offense. I found the ball a lot against Toronto, played some balls, but it wasn't able to result in goals, which is the most important thing. I'm still working and I'm glad to be out there. Now we're just working toward LA and preparing for them."