While the United States defense has held up adequately thus far in CONCACAF, questions persist about the unit’s ability to counter the heavyweights of the football world. While we’ll get some answers this summer at the FIFA Confederations Cup, help could be on the way.
It is well known that Bob Bradley rates West Ham defender Jonathan Spector highly. Spector a childhood friend of Bradley’s son Michael in the Chicago area, rapidly developed the type of skill set most Americans don’t posses. He was so impressive for the US Youth National Teams and at the Bradenton Academy that he found himself on Manchester United by age 18.
Spector played rarely at United, although he did see some action in the League Cup during the 2004-05 season. The defender was loaned to Charlton Athletic and Manager Alan Curbishley the following year and became a regular. But an injury in a game against Pompey ended his Charlton career and his shot of being selected for Bruce Arena’s 23 man squad heading to Germany 2006.
After being signed by West Ham United during the summer 2006 window, Spector played rarely under Alan Pardew but when Curbishley became the West Ham manager in December 2006, Spector became a first team member and played a vital role in helping the Hammers escape the drop. This extended run carried over to the US National Team where Spector played a key role in the Gold Cup 2007 title the US won.
Spector’s injury woes hit again late last season and this took him out of both the US and West Ham lineups. Peter Nowak missed him dearly at the Olympics and the US has yet to have his services for a World Cup qualifier. Curbishley has moved on but new West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola likes the Americans versatility and has used him regularly since his return to fitness. Additionally, Spector has been given a contract extension by West Ham at a time when some of the US National Team regulars are struggling to settle with their European clubs.
Why is Spector so valuable? He is versatile as Zola has noted. Comfortable with either foot, he can play inside on the back line, or even as a wing back. In a pinch he can even be called on to play as a holding midfielder. Given the troubles the US has with proper spacing at the back and positioning, I would not be at all surprised to see Spector right back in the team for the next set of qualifiers.
Long term, having just turned 23, Spector is likely to be a mainstay for years to come. I’d fully expect him to be on the US squad for South Africa 2010 and a key figure in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup as well.