Early season starters look for return to starting 11
With the Crew struggling over their last five games, some early season starters are looking to earn their way back in the starting 11.
By: Andrew King
Columbus Crew's 1-4-0 record in their last five games and dissipating hopes of the playoffs, there is still competition brewing in the ranks of the team.
Midfielder Ben Speas and defender Tyson Wahl are at very different points in their season, but both players are focused on getting back into the starting lineup that featured them much more at the beginning of the campaign.
Wahl was one of the few players who saw action in every game until the team's July 4 match against Los Angeles, and did not make the match-day squad of 18 when the Crew hosted New England on Saturday. Still, Wahl doesn't believe that his play took a sharp downturn to spur the change.
“I don’t necessarily think that it was anything in particular of my game that put me out of the lineup,” he said. “When teams are struggling, changes are made, and that change happened to be me.”
The left back says that despite the lack of playing time in the past three matches, he hasn't changed his focus or preparation.
“I just have to stay positive; that’s what I’m working on,” he said. “I just [need to] keep on fighting and keep on working hard every day and wait on the next opportunity and make the most of it when it comes.”
Young outside midfielder Speas saw his first action of the season in the team's second match of the year against Vancouver, and impressed with a goal and an assist in his first three starts. When veteran winger Eddie Gaven was lost to the season, many expected Speas to take over the role consistently, but the homegrown talent has found sparing minutes throughout the summer as he competes against Justin Meram, Bernardo Anor and Dominic Oduro for playing time.
In the team's last-minute loss to New England, Speas had a shot that was close enough to get fans out of their seats late in the match, but the shot flew just wide. Though he couldn't earn the game-winner, many felt that his inclusion off of the bench helped the team's attack, and Speas says he's working to make his presence felt even more.
“You just want to have an impact on the game,” he said. “I'm an attacking player, so I just try to have an impact attacking-wise. [Getting] crosses, shots, just being dangerous and setting up guys... I think that's what's important and that's what's needed out of a wide player.”
For Head Coach Robert Warzycha, deserving a role in the starting lineup may have different criteria, and Speas's willingness to join the attack seems to define him as more of a substitute in the coach's mind.
“I'm looking for [starters] to be consistent, and looking for respect on the field and for responsibility,” he said. “Sometimes, we're looking for the game changer and for the guy who can really change something, and that’s why you put in subs, hoping that the player off the bench can bring some energy.”
Warzycha has altered his starting lineup, and in some cases his formation, several matches in a row. Despite this trend, he suggested that he will likely try to stick to the team's current rotation, though players will get a chance to show that they belong in the starting lineup with quality play.
“I don’t think I’m going to do anything drastic, I’ll put it that way,” he said. “I’m giving everybody a chance to play, and I’m giving everybody a chance to show me that they need to be on the field, and obviously still searching.”