Ben Speas and the Sophomore Slump

USA TODAY Sports

Ben Speas kicked off his season in style, but he's been flat lately.

Ben Speas wasn't the starting left winger at the start of the season. It took an injury to Eddie Gaven for him to get the start in Vancouver. He's now started six consecutive games and has a goal and assist. Lately, however, his play has been flagging and is a candidate to head to the bench. Have teams figured him out or is it just a blip.

Speas was seen as a bright home grown prospect when he signed in January 2012. Injuries derailed most of his season and he publicly groused about playing time as he was working back into fitness during the summer. He would star in reserve team matches, but only made one appearance, the last game of the season against Toronto to finish out his rookie year.

Speas has shown he's not a typical play wide and cross the ball winger. He's the perfect kind of player for Robert Warzycha's system with width offered by the fullbacks. Speas will look to cut inside and attack the defense off the dribble or switch with Federico Higuain.

Speas hasn't succeeded with flash. He doesn't have game breaking speed or dazzling foot skills. Rather than a series of step-overs, Speas probes for a defenders weakness and attacks it. This was clearest during his run when he first started. He was one of the best players on the field in the Crew's win against D.C.

Recently, teams have looked to make contact and disrupt Speas physically. He's missing passes and his movement off the ball isn't as threatening. To some extent, the league has figured him out.

More than the first game, this is the pivotal part of his season. With teams starting to attack his weaknesses, he has to adapt. This is part of the reason that young talent can be inconsistent. Speas doesn't have the bag of tricks to handle a defender like veteran players like Higuain or Eddie Gaven. He is developing them on the fly.

So far, Warzycha has stuck with Speas after a couple weak performances. The sagging fortunes of the Crew offense plays a part in his performances, but he has often resorted to playing with his head down a bit more and try taking players on. He needs to bring that variety back to his game or he'll likely see the bench.

It's often tough for young players to find consistency, but this is Speas first chance to adjust to the pro game and become an impact on offense again. Like the team as a whole, Speas 2013 season likely is riding on his performance in the upcoming home stand.

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