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Forcing Decisions, Ben Speas

The play of the second year pro from Northeast Ohio has created challenges for Robert Warzycha in the one place he has shown to be limited in handling and one the team can least afford.

Ben Speas, April 6, 2013 Crew Stadium (L.W.Johnson)
Ben Speas, April 6, 2013 Crew Stadium (L.W.Johnson)

For the first time in a years the Columbus Crew entered the 2013 season with a full accompaniment of players. There were no major injuries, a clear and preferred formation and a starting lineup that really only had one question mark (to play Matias Sanchez or not).


Things seemed locked in until Eddie Gaven picked up a slight injury and Ben Speas filled in. Ben’s first game in relief of Gaven was away to Vancouver. It might have been a loss for the team but showcased his abilities. Next up was San Jose at home filling in, once again, for an injured Eddie Gaven.

From there, after starting in a loss away and 1:1 draw at home, Ben retained his starting spot vs DC United due to the absence of Jairo Arrieta, who was off playing in World Cup qualifiers. He scored his first career MLS league goal, here.


For the Philadelphia game at Crew Stadium, with Jairo Arrieta back, Eddie Gaven healthy and Speas in form, Robert Warzycha had a difficult lineup choice to make and make it he did. Arrieta was the odd man out with Dominic Oduro moving into the position Arrieta has played since he came to town last summer.

No change in lineup amongst competitive pro players is ever an easy thing. There is always fall out somewhere, but was it the right decision to bench Arrieta?


Dominic Oduro is a known Major League Soccer entity. At 27 years old he has a solid six years of league experience. 9,990 minutes. 188 appearances and 104 starts. 35 goals, 17 assists. He is an above average forward in this league.

With all this information it is easy to see exactly what Dominic is going to give your club. What is that? Works out to be around 0.32 Goals per 90 Minutes played (Gp90) for his career. Last three years have been slightly better at 0.37 Gp90.

As a goal scorer, Dominic is very consistent and very good. With a goal every three or four games he is every bit a MLS starter.

Less is known about Jairo Arrieta but he came onto the scene strongly last year. So strong, in fact, he wound up 10th in the entire league in Gp90 minutes played for players registering 900 minutes (10 games) or more. His Goal+Assist per 90 rate found him 9th in the league last year (Oduro’s rate was 52nd in the league).

Arrieta’s goal scoring rate bests even Oduro’s best year (2008, FC Dallas 0.45 Gp90) by some distance.


Five different teams in about as many years with two club changes mid-year tells us that there might be a personality issue that comes along with Oduro’s remarkable speed and goal scoring talent. He, himself, was making playing time demands in Chicago as recently as a week before he came to Columbus. Once here he continued in that same vein saying that he is here to be a starter, not come off the bench. While some organizations in MLS have proven to be able to handle this type of player the Crew have not.


There should be no question as to who starts as the lone forward for the Columbus Crew. There were few indications that Jairo Arrieta would be this good coming in to the league. Most had him as only mildly better that fellow Costa Rican, Olman Vargas. Arrieta has been a refreshing revelation for the Crew. On top of that he is representing the great country of Costa Rica, proudly.

To start Oduro in front of Arrieta is nothing more than conflict avoidance. The rest of the team reacted poorly and you could see that during the first half of last week’s match. Furthermore, Robert Warzycha’s over correcting action of (uncharacteristically) putting Arrieta in at half was an admission of mistake and only exasperated the problem.


We saw exactly the same thing last year when Emilio Renteria was benched in Philadelphia after a spell of excellent form. TV camera’s caught him visibly frustrated on the sidelines during the game. He eventually found more minutes but it came in the form of playing a midfield role. It was a move that basically spelled the end of his Crew career - not to mention his Venezuelan National Team one as well.

Ironically enough, it was against Philly Week 5 of last year where we saw the first player management cracks. Week 5 this year, same opponent. Similar personnel decisions. Same management mistakes.


Ben Speas is better than Dominic Oduro in the midfield. Oduro, while a great goal scorer, isn’t as good as Jairo Arrieta up top in the lone forward role. Is it possible that Arrieta might cool off and Oduro becomes the prefered option? Sure. But nowhere near that right now.

As for the frustrations that might come from Oduro’s camp for not starting right now? Well, this is exactly why they call the position Manager and not babysitter.


It’s always exciting to see a player take shape right before your eyes. Ben Speas is that player this year and is doing exactly what you need to in order to hollow out a place for yourself in professional sport. His level of play? You don’t need to go any further than the fact it’s been so good that it’s forced the hand’s of the Crew coaching staff to shuffle a lineup card that includes a top level Central American and West African international in Jairo Arrieta and Dominic Oduro.

That speaks for itself, for now.