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The Crew's Home Grown Signings Are Paving The Way

The Crew are reaping the benefits of a solid group of academy players.

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Growing up in Central Ohio has few similarities between coming of age in London or Barcelona. Columbus is certainly not as glamorous of a city, nor a tourist destination.

One thing the cities do now have in common for youngsters playing soccer, or football, or futbol, is that they can all dream and work towards one day competing for their local club.

When MLS began play in 1996, the youth fans of local teams could all look up to the players on the pitch and hope to one day stand in their shoes. As the league grew, this seemed to become less of an option. Teams looked for bigger name players to fuel their success.

In 2007, MLS created the Youth Development Initiative to encourage teams to bring in talent from their area, develop them, and give those that possessed the quality the chance to sign with the team they have supported.

This idea was not new, as teams throughout the world use this method to find the next superstar, but it was something foreign to Americans. Now teams in the league could sign these players that came through their system as "homegrown players".

Through this method, a local player put on the homegrown list could be signed directly without the use of the draft or allocation. This gives incentive to both players and teams to take part, as it provides another opportunity to add to the talent.

In theory, this provides teams a chance to build a culture and style of play that players learn from a young age as they develop in their MLS teams' system. The pride that they feel for their local club may also exceed those that are merely playing for their contract.

While the Crew quickly took to the initiative, beginning Crew Juniors and the Crew Soccer Academy, the success was not seen right away.

Recently, things have changed.

The 2013 Columbus roster features nine players from Ohio, five of which are homegrown players. It is probable that the likes of Danny O'Rourke and Konrad Warzycha would have also been a part of the list if it had been an option.

The Crew are tied for second-most homegrown players in the league, but there must be production from these players to make signing them worthwhile.

Aaron Horton was the first homegrown player for Columbus, yet has spent more time on loan than on the pitch. More recent additions have begun to show the benefit of the Academy for the Crew.

After making only one appearance in his first season with the Black and Gold, Ben Speas has played in 14 games this year, starting nine, and contributing a goal and an assist. It is likely the 22-year old from Stow would have featured more for the Crew if it weren't for nagging injuries that have made him a scratch and slowed his season.

Talented outside back, and Columbus native, Chad Barson was first handed a spot in the lineup due to injuries, but has since proven why the Crew were eager to have him in the Academy early on.

At points this season, Barson has solidified both the right and left defender spots, and has now become a mainstay on the Columbus backline with 12 appearances and 10 starts.

Barson's former Akron teammate Wil Trapp has recently come in and locked down a starting spot in the Crew's midfield. After spending the beginning of the year with the U.S. U-20 national team, Trapp has adjusted to life as a professional.

In the six games the 20-year old has played and started, he has added calmness to the midfield that one would not expect from someone of his age. He is able to possess and distribute, while also helping to win the ball back, being perhaps the brightest spot of the homegrown players thus far.

Goalkeeper Matt Lampson is another Columbus product who has been forced to contribute recently. As backup to Andy Gruenebaum over the last two seasons, Lampson has made seven appearances so far. This year he has started five games, recording three shutouts, and has looked like a viable option if the Crew requires his services.

These players have all contributed this season and may be a part of something special if the local products can help turn this season around for the Crew. They have all shown the talent that made them special in high school and attracted the eyes of the Black and Gold.

Aside from their play this season, these players may be looked at as trailblazers, who helped guide the way for future young stars.

With the youth soccer talent that Columbus, Ohio provides, there is no doubt that many players are practicing in their backyards, envisioning the day they step on to the pitch at Columbus Crew Stadium, wearing their local colors proudly.

While it may not happen to all players, the homegrown system and the players that have already taken advantage are showing that these dreams, with focus and hard work, can become a reality.