When Chad Barson spent the 2007-08 school year training with the U.S. 19U men's soccer program in Bradenton, Fla., the then-Olentangy High School junior only dreamed he someday would play at the sport's highest level.
On Jan. 24, when Barson returned to Bradenton as a member of the Columbus Crew for 10 days of preseason training, he had the opportunity to see exactly how far his career had come.
"It's definitely a new feeling to know my only job is playing soccer," said Barson, a defender.
"It was always a goal of mine to play soccer, and as I kept playing in high school and college, I began to realize it was a realistic goal if I just worked hard enough. I still have a lot of developing to do, but hey, I grew up in Columbus, I've lived in the same house all my life and now I get to play professionally for my hometown team."
Barson, a 2009 Olentangy graduate who won a Division I national championship with the University of Akron in 2010, signed a contract with the Crew in late December. The deal was announced Jan. 10.
Barson, who started training in the Crew's academy system in spring 2008, was the fifth homegrown player signed by the team. Among them are his former Akron teammate Wil Trapp, a Gahanna graduate who signed with the Crew on Dec. 11, and childhood friend Aaron Horton -- an Olentangy Orange graduate whose last-minute shot was blocked by Barson in the 2010 national title game as Akron defeated Louisville 1-0.
The 5-foot-10, 170-pound Barson started 93 of 95 games for the Zips, who were 78-7-10 in his tenure. As a senior at Olentangy in 2008, he assisted on 14 of the Braves' 27 goals and was named to This Week's Super 12 team, in addition to being first-team all-district and second-team all-state.
Because of his position, Barson might get time with the Crew right away. The team's opener is March 2 at Chivas USA.
"Our roster is not chock-full of defenders," Crew technical director Brian Bliss recently told The Columbus Dispatch. "We're going to add some guys there, but Chad is one guy we've added who can play defense and play on the right side and play right-side central defender. ...
"Chad is definitely capable, no doubt. He's been successful at every venue he's been at. We wouldn't shy away from throwing him in there if we have to."
Nor did the Crew shy away from signing two homegrown players in Barson and Trapp, both of whom were widely projected to be first-round draft picks.
"It's not going to be like that every year, but this is what the player-development system is all about," Crew president and general manager Mark McCullers said at the MLS draft on Jan. 17 in Indianapolis.
"I absolutely look at it in that context. When I look at our draft class at the end of (the) week, I'm going to have Barson and Trapp included in those names."
Despite being regarded as a high draft pick, Barson said he was relieved both to sign with the Crew and not have to sweat out the draft to see where he would land.
"I love this organization," he said. "They've invested so much in me already. I've trained with them basically since my junior year of high school. I was fortunate enough for them to ask me to train with them when they needed numbers. It was great to go against high-level players like Frankie Hejduk and Duncan Oughton. I just hope I can apply everything I learned."