“I’ll cherish this for the rest of my life. Being able to step out there and put on the first team jersey for the first time, against a club like Valencia, I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.”
Seventeen-year-old Ben Swanson said this after his Crew SC debut.
He and three others dawned the Black & Gold on the pitch for the first time Wednesday night against renowned La Liga premier club, Valencia CF.
“Yeah, it was really exciting,” Swanson said. “I knew Gregg [Berhalter] said earlier in the week that everyone was getting 45 [minutes of playing time]. So I kind of prepared during the week knowing that I was going to play. Throughout school today, I couldn’t really focus, I was just kind of excited just to be on the field and play against a top club like Valencia. I had my friends and family [at the stadium], it was incredible.”
Berhalter recognized Swanson’s enthusiasm and was pleased overall with his performance.
“He was certainly excited,” Berhalter said. “Part of his job is to calm his nerves a little, be able to perform and I think he did that well. You didn’t really see the nerves and of course there were times when he made mistakes. But, overall the willingness for him to get on the ball and to want to make passes, that’s what I’m most proud of. It’s not easy for a 17-year-old to do that and he didn’t show any fear. I think that’s a good step.”
But Swanson wasn’t the only player to make his Crew SC debut. As we continue to build depth, Sergio Campbell, Kalen Ryden and Brad Stuver also earned the opportunity to play.
“We wanted to give everyone game-time and we wanted to mix the lineups up a little bit, so it was challenging,” Berhalter said. “Piecing it together wasn’t easy but I think both groups did okay.”
Not only did the international friendly provide a good opportunity for the coach to try different lineups, he was also able fully assess his roster.
“Playing against them, to give our guys that experience was great at this moment because we’re going to need everyone in the season,” said Berhalter. “You get to evaluate guys and see what they’re up to and check their form. Overall, I think it was a good exercise.”
Someone who earned a positive response from his debut was goalkeeper Brad Stuver.
“I think he’s made a lot of progress,” said Berhalter. “I think if you look how comfortable he was with his feet, playing out of the back under some pressure, that was really good to see. And then coming up with some big saves, that’s what we ask our goalies to do. Steve [Clark] has been doing it all year, or since he’s been here. It’s great to see Brad step up and have a good performance.”
Surprisingly, he notched a shot following a Crew SC corner in stoppage time.
“I guess that’s the good thing about friendlies,” said Stuver. “You can pretty much do whatever you want, nothing will go wrong. I looked over at the bench and Gregg [Berhalter] just kind of nodded his head and I was like ‘okay, so I’m going to make a 120 yard sprint’ and luckily the ball fell to my foot. I’m really, really sad it didn’t go in.”
Even more impressive was his performance between the posts. It certainly didn’t look like his first Crew SC game, as he made multiple remarkable saves.
“Every big save like that, it’s definitely a confidence booster,” said Stuver. “Getting the first one, definitely was able to build off that, definitely get the confidence up. I had great guys in front of me that made the saves a little bit easier for me.”
Stuver credits his teammates for his feat, but Berhalter confirmed the keeper was solid regardless.
“He was good,” said Berhalter. “He saved the one-on-one with [Alvaro] Negredo and had a couple other saves. He was good and it’s nice to see. Obviously, he hasn’t been playing that much and it’s been difficult for him at times, but it’s great to see when a player gets an opportunity that he takes advantage of it.”
Stuver said the same of Swanson’s first appearance.
“Ben Swanson looked good,” said Stuver. “He was playing the Tony Tchani role with [Mohammed Saeid] coming in playing his normal role and I think Ben did really well. I think he has been working a lot on his fitness and 45 minutes in a game scenario is definitely going to help his fitness out, but I thought his touches were good and I thought he bodied the bigger guys pretty well. He was able to use his body to shield the guys off and be able to turn there in the midfield. I thought he did really well.”
Getting positive feedback from his teammates and coaches was a bonus for Ben Swanson. This wasn’t just any match for the rookie midfielder, after all.
“It was a sweet experience,” Swanson said. “I walked in the locker room and I saw my jersey for the first time. And to be able to put it on, and to be able to step out in front of my friends and family and fans, and play against a top club like Valencia—it was a dream come true.”