Swanson signing "says a lot" about Crew Academy system

For the second time in a week, the Columbus Crew announced Wednesday that they will be signing another player for the 2015 season.

This time, Crew Soccer Academy product Ben Swanson was the man to join the team, and the 17-year-old midfielder will sign his first professional contract with the club at a special event in front of the academy’s U-9 players – the age that Swanson began his youth career with the Crew – on Thursday.

Swanson trained with the Crew First Team sparingly throughout the season before joining them nearly full-time last month. And after seeing him in action, Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter said Swanson’s signing is exciting for the Crew.

“I think it’s great for the club,” he said. “It says a lot that we’re able to take a guy from when he’s nine years old and bring him into the First Team eight years later. I think that’s a great accomplishment for our youth system.”

Just a junior at Grove City High School, expectations are high for Swanson’s future but realistic for his imminent time with the Crew. Berhalter said he wasn’t sure whether Swanson will be with the team in 2015, and left open the possibility of loans or other moves.

“We’re going to look at some possibilities,” he said. “I think he’s at a great age right now where he still has a lot of development to go. We have to see what kind of impact he can make with the First Team, that’s going to be first and foremost. Then, as we evaluate that, we’ll be able to take the necessary steps to move him along his developmental path.”

But could Crew fans see him suit-up for the Black & Gold next season? Berhalter didn’t rule it out.

“That’s up to him,” he said. “We’re not prejudice against age; if he’s good enough, he’s good enough. We’ll evaluate that. I envision him coming to preseason with us and trying to make an impact.”

Swanson is a central midfielder who can play both an attacking and holding role. Berhalter said Swanson has talent in both areas and didn’t want to pigeonhole him into a position yet.

And while Swanson was committed to Wake Forest before the signing (he wouldn’t graduate until 2016), Berhalter said he thinks being with a professional club is important for his development.

“We think he’s close to being (at a professional level), so it’s a question of how to move him from where he is now to being a pro,” he said.

“We thought the best way was to sign him.”

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