Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Spector Fighting For Club And Country

By Clemente Lisi -- It’s been an interesting season for Jonathan Spector. After spending the Summer with the United States National Team at the World Cup, he returned to a West Ham United squad that needed a late season surge to avoid relegation. Under new management, Spector spent the first part of the season seeing limited time in the West Ham defense. What changed for Spector was a change in position. As a central midfielder, he scored goals. That made him a regular name on West Ham manager Avram Grant’s team sheet.

“I’ve enjoyed my new role. It’s given me a chance to help the offense a bit more,” said Spector, a native of the Chicago-area who has developed a hint of a British accent after his eight years in England.

Spector, 25, has been in the National Team mix since 2004. Originally a striker when he got his start for the US Under-17 team in 2003, Spector finally made it big as a defender. During the Milk Cup that year, a Manchester United scout liked what he saw in Spector, leading to a contract.

At Manchester United, Spector played infrequently until injuries to other players forced coach Alex Ferguson to give the 17-year-old more minutes. In 2005, Spector was loaned out to Charlton Athletic, where he made 24 league game appearances. In June 2006, Spector signed with West Ham, where he became a regular in the starting lineup. At West Ham, Spector played left back – even though he is right-footed – under then-manager Gianfranco Zola. Once Zola was fired, the club’s new coach Avram Grant moved Spector into the midfield.

“I accept my role on the team, no matter what it is, and I try to excel at it,” Spector said during his stay in the US in March for the National Team’s friendlies against Argentina and Paraguay.

Spector has excelled at his newfound position over the past few months, although he struggled to get minutes. He scored his first-ever career goals in England this season, including two in a 4-0 home win at Upton Park over former club Manchester United in the League Cup last November. Commenting on his time on the bench, Spector was quoted on the club’s website as saying, “It’s been a bit frustrating and disappointing, but at the same time you have to wait for your chance and it came on Tuesday.”

In January, he scored again in West Ham’s 2-0 home win against Barnsley in the FA Cup. Spector then netted his first-ever EPL goal in January on the road against his USA teammate Tim Howard at Goodison Park in a 2-2 draw against Everton.

“I was happy to finally get that first (Premiership) goal after being here for a few years,” he said.

Despite his solid play in the midfield, the London-based club has spent most of the season mired in the relegation zone. Currently in last place in the Premiership, the Hammers are in a seven-team battle to avoid the drop.

“We’ve been stuck in the relegation for most of this season and we’re going to have to give it our all to get out of it,” he said.

Spector said he’s been involved in relegation battles in the past and that “they’re always tough” to overcome. Last season, West Ham finished in 17th place, avoiding the drop by a mere five points.

West Ham suffered another blow this past Sunday, losing 2-1 to Manchester City. The Hammers host Blackburn, which features National Team midfielder Jermaine Jones, this coming Saturday in a must-win game for both clubs. Blackburn is six points above West Ham in the standings. West Ham closes the season at home against Sunderland on May 22nd in a match that could determine whether the Hammers stay in the EPL or are forced to play in the second-tier Championship come August. That game is already sold out.

At international level, Spector has worked for playing time in a crowded US defensive corp. Still, he has earned a chance to impress, showing well for coach Bob Bradley and winning a spot on the 2010 World Cup squad. Though he didn’t play, he was there in part due to how he performed in the ‘09 Confederations Cup. Playing as a right back, he assisted on Clint Dempsey’s goal against Egypt in the first round and again, using a similar long ball, aided Dempsey in scoring the game’s opening goal against Brazil in that ill-fated final.

Spector returned to the US starting lineup after the World Cup, starting against Brazil and Colombia in a pair of friendlies to close out the year. He started in another marquee friendly against Argentina in March and was a substitute against Paraguay a few days later.

“You constantly have to prove yourself – either on the club level or on the National Team – because there is always another player out there looking to grab a spot,” Spector said.

Spector, who was on the US team that won the 2007 Gold Cup, said he is looking forward to this summer’s Gold Cup and hopes to be part of the squad this summer.

“Representing the US is always an honor. Not many players get the chance to do that,” said Spector, who has 30 appearances with the National Team “ I am always honored to put on the US shirt.”


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