On Thursday, the Columbus Crew will make a signing that won't move the radar quite like the announcement of forward Kei Kamara a week ago, but one that head coach Gregg Berhalter called "great for the club." The Crew announced on Wednesday that 17-year old Ben Swanson will sign a homegrown contract the following evening and be available for the 2015 season.
Swanson trained with the Black and Gold on and off throughout the season, but has been a consistent presence at practice - and the club's rebrand announcement - over the last three and half weeks. This may have been Swanson's time with the first team, but his history with the club is much greater.
"It says a lot that we're able to take a player at nine years old and bring him into the first team eight years later," Berhalter said in reference to the Grove City native, who began playing with the Crew's youth team before he reached double digits in age.
"I think that's a great accomplishment from our youth system and not only that, he's a talented player and we're excited about him being a part of our team."
Swanson has been on the first team's radar for a while, but was also known beyond. Berhalter said he was aware of Swanson before he took over as head coach, but wanted to see the young player first hand.
"I'd heard his name before but he was a guy that was 16-years old and it's a guy that you know about," he said. "You want to get a chance to evaluate live and when we got a chance to evaluate him, we saw that he's a player with a lot of potential."
Swanson, who would be a junior in high school, has spent much of his youth career at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida while also playing with the Crew Academy. He is familiar with many players on the roster due to his ability to play at a higher level than his age.
"I've watched and played with Ben since he was probably 12-years old. He was coming up to U-16 trainings at 12," said Crew rookie and fellow homegrown player Ross Friedman. "Since he was a kid, he's really been a phenom."
Swanson may have been a pheonom at the youth level, but he will have to prove his ability as a professional. With the Black and Gold, he will get his chance to turn his potential into reality.
"We're not prejudice against age. If he's good enough, he's good enough," Berhalter said. "We'll evaluate that. I could envision him coming to preseason with us and trying to make an impact."
For the head coach, it will be about developing the player now that he is signed. The staff believes in Swanson's talent and wanted to bring him in before he decided to go the college rout in order to prepare him for the future.
"First and foremost is the length of the season," Berhalter said of why they decided to make this move now. "We want to get his body accustomed to a higher workload. The pro game is more demanding and as he has more exposure to that, his body will adapt."
Once the signing is official, Swanson will become the youngest homegrown player in Crew history, something Friedman could not grasp.
"Honestly, I cannot relate. I was not ready at age 17 like this kid is," he said. "For him, it takes a lot of maturity."
Berhalter was not sure how Swanson would be used for the club and even left the door open for a potential loan move. He did say they would look at him at both a deep-sitting midfielder and a more attacking option because they believe he can do either.
There has been a lot of hype around this young player and now he has the chance to live up to it. 2015 will be his first shot.