Growing up in the Akron suburb of Stow, Ben Speas used to commute to Columbus to take part in the Crew’s academy system. After a college career that included winning NCAA College Cup titles with Akron in 2010 and North Carolina in 2011, even being named College Cup MVP with UNC, Speas signed a homegrown player contract to play for the club he followed as a kid. Speas made 41 appearances with in four seasons with the Crew and has recently joined North Carolina FC for the 2019 USL Championship season.
Just days after he arrived in North Carolina, Speas got on the phone to talk about his emotions now that his childhood club had been saved. Here’s what he had to say…
On the 15-month relocation saga:
It was tough. I can still remember the very first tweet that first night from Grant Wahl. It was late. I was about to go to bed and my heart sank. My wife was asleep next to me, so I woke her up. I had to wake her up to tell her. Then I just had a bad feeling. I had a lot of thoughts running through my mind about my time there. I had so many thoughts that I couldn’t sleep. The thing that stuck out to me when I thought about my four years that I can drastically remember was that when the team was taken over from the Hunts, things changed. Once I heard there was a plan to move the team, it all made sense.
I remember with the Hunts, everything felt like family. The people, the way that things were run, the history with the people involved with the club, but then things changed. I’m not going to go into a lot of specifics, but here’s one that meant a lot to me. When I first signed with the Crew in 2012, I can remember at Obetz they had every single jersey on the wall in there and the team photo of every single team. I remember going in there that first day and, as a kid, I could remember all of those jerseys and teams. They all had meaning to me. Then I remember coming in a couple of years later and everything was gone. None of that was there. I was a little concerned. I was just wondering where everything was. That’s something that was personal to me. That history and that family aspect was important to me, so that was tough. I grew up with that, so it was cool to see all those jerseys from all the years, but once the potential move got announced, it was like, “Okay, now it’s all coming together. Lots of things that I saw, now I know I should have seen this. Now it all makes sense.”
For the past 15 months, people like my teammates would ask me what’s going to happen with the Crew and I’d always say, “I don’t know, but if the Crew’s going to be gone, I don’t know how soccer in America is going to have a history.” If they’re going to get rid of the team with the most history, what’s that say to the other clubs? These brand new clubs that are coming in? If you go to Europe, all those clubs are over a hundred years old. Well, this is the most history that we have in the United States and it’s just going to be erased? That’s just not logical.
I didn’t know what was going to happen over the past 15 months, but I was just hoping for the best. Obviously, I’m not in Columbus anymore, but I follow along and I wanted the best.
On the Crew being 100% officially saved:
Such a relief. Through it all, I just had thoughts about how one thing that would be special to me is when I could bring my son to a Crew game. It’s going to mean a lot to me when I can bring my son to a Crew game. I was thinking that that wasn’t going to happen, so I was sad about that. My son’s three and he has a Crew jersey. We’ve passed the stadium on the highway when driving through Ohio and he knows dad used to play there. The fact that that wasn’t going to be able to happen was really sad. That’s just one personal story, but all the things, all the people, all the history, all the big games, all the trophies won. It’s just a relief. It’s awesome and it’s what’s deserved.
On Dr. Edwards being part of the new ownership group:
Doc Edwards has been with the team the whole time. Dr. Edwards knows what it’s like to have the family aspect, and that’s what he’s doing. It’s no coincidence that he’s part of the ownership group. I think he knows how many special people there are, and how many fans and supporters there are, and how this has to stay in the city. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that he stepped up. It just makes you proud. Like all of the players have told you, we’ve worked with Doc Edwards and you can’t say enough good things about him. He stepped up and helped save the whole club, so it shows you just what it means to him.
On the owners of the Cleveland Browns–the Haslams–being part of the ownership group from the point of view of a Northeast Ohioan:
If we’re going to talk about the Browns, I’ll be honest. My family was not into football, so I was not a Browns fan, as crazy as that seems considering where I grew up. I will say that as of January 9, I’ve never been a bigger Browns fan in my life. It’s never too late! I think it’s awesome that there’s an Ohio connection and that the Haslam family was able to help save the Crew.
On the new stadium and training facilities, the latter of which will preserve MAPFRE Stadium and keep it in use:
That’s all awesome. I can’t think of anything better. It goes back to like I said about the jerseys, except it’s the stadium. They found a way to use it as part of the training complex and to run some events out of there. I think that’s special. There are so many memories there, not just from Crew games, but U.S. National Team games. Everything that’s gone on there, it’s history for the sport in our country. I think it’s really cool.
And I don’t even need to say anything about the new stadium. It’s great. I’ve driven by the site and it’s going to be an awesome location. It’s really exciting.
The current stadium has so much history, but it needs updating. And now look at what’s going to happen. Not only will there be a new stadium, but the old stadium is still going to be used. It really couldn’t have happened any better. There were a lot of question marks along the way, but now that we’re on the other side of it, it’s perfect.
On what he would say to all of the Crew fans who participated in the #SaveTheCrew movement:
You can’t really say enough. I’ve followed along from afar online. All of the rallies and everything that they’ve done, they deserve it. They absolutely deserve it. I’m so glad the Crew was able to be saved. They definitely didn’t deserve to the lose the team. The team belongs in Columbus. It has had such a big impact on the community and I think it’s a great place for the sport. I’m just so happy for the fans and I know that they’re going to continue to support the team and I’m going to be so excited to see them in the new stadium.
A MASSIVE SEASON is now available as an ebook.