In preparation for next week's 2015 MLS SuperDraft, ColumbusCrewSC.com caught up with the Black & Gold's first-round selection in 2014, Ben Sweat, to look back on his first year in Columbus.
ColumbusCrewSC.com: Take me back to SuperDraft last year. You weren’t in attendance, but what was it like when Don Garber called your name?
Ben Sweat: At first, it was really surprising getting called to Columbus. I had no idea who I was going to get picked-up by. It literally skipped a beat in my heart, honestly. It was a dream come true. Everything I had been working for, and then you finally hear your name called — it was really cool.
ColumbusCrewSC.com: A few days later, you arrive in Columbus for your first day as a pro. What’s it like getting to know all the players as a rookie?
BS: I knew it was part of the process. I knew I had to go in and go through the seniority part of it: work hard, let my play speak for itself. It was a good process. It was good to get help from Michael Parkhurst and some of the older guys looking out for me. It was a good transition from college to pro. It was a lot of what I expected.
ColumbusCrewSC.com: It’s one thing to do it on the field, but off the field, what was the transition of getting acquainted with the city of Columbus like? What were your first impressions of the city?
BS: I live in Clearwater (Fla.). It’s not a big city, but there’s a big population and I’m outside of Tampa, so the city feeling was cool. To live near the city, have a stadium in the city and to be part of a team that was one of the main teams in the city, it was all really cool. Just getting used to all that was fun.
ColumbusCrewSC.com: What is the “rookie life” like in the locker room?
BS: Everyone’s pretty equal. Rookies are expected to put in a little extra work whether it’s cleaning up, getting equipment… Little things like that. We never got hazed, but all the new players in the beginning of the year at preseason had to come up with a funny skit to do. That was fun with all the rookies, plus Waylon Francis as a newcomer, Steve Clark was a newcomer. We got to do a funny skit as the coaches, which was something fun to do.
ColumbusCrewSC.com: Playing-wise, where do you think you grew the most during your rookie season?
BS: I think the defensive aspect. I think I was a good defender in college, but my strong suit and why I was drafted so high was because I was a left-footed leftback that could attack as well. I think getting used to the physical aspect and how tactical the defensive aspect is at this level, how important it is to be in certain positions — a lot of things in the defensive part of the game is where I made a big jump.
ColumbusCrewSC.com: You played and got an assist in a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match at Chicago. What was that experience like taking the field for the first time?
BS: It was mixed. I was nervous, but I was anxious because I’d worked my butt off all year. I finally got my first start. The coaches told me I earned it. I prepared myself as well as I could, and I thought I performed well enough to leave a good impression. Obviously, it was my first game and I was going to make mistakes: bad passes, being in the wrong positioning, but it was exciting. It was exciting to get a nice little assist to Jairo [Arrieta]. I was proud of myself after that. I knew it was small compared to what I really want to accomplish, like being a consistent starter, but it was a good stepping stone.
ColumbusCrewSC.com: There are bound to be a few rookies when Crew SC opens camp in a couple weeks. What advice do you have for a first-year player coming in?
BS: Enjoy it. Honestly, enjoy it. Embrace it. You’ve got to put the work in before, and you’ve got to put the work in when you’re with the team. That’s how you’re going to earn your respect. You’re going to have the older guys looking after you. You’re going to have people telling you what to do because you’re coming in and you don’t know everything. You don’t know all the players, you don’t know all the coaches. Everyone’s going to be friendly, everyone’s nice. The biggest thing is to put in the work and get your respect early, but enjoy it. My first year was fun. Even though I was with Dayton sometimes, I got to play some reserve matches… Every experience was fun and I learned from it.