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Jonathan Spector

Jonathan Spector: Making the Right Choices


I’ve read a lot of strange opinions on Jonathan Spector in the last 36 hours, most of which I disagree with entirely. Speaking with MLS Talk podcast correspondent Chris Riordan, the co-founder of Russian Football Now, we both believe Spector has the type of game rarely seen from an American defender, and that dropping him could be a disaster for the USA.

It is understandable that some fans and media are unhappy about Spector’s role on El Salvador’s first goal. After all, Spector was beat on the play according to the TV screens and instant replay. But it was a poor clearance, or better described as an inept piece of football by Jonathan Bornstein that put Spector in a bad position.

I have watched the US National Team for over 20 years and throughout that period the side has had plenty of fullbacks that don’t mark well and deliver crosses that still have not landed. These backs also tend to clear the ball poorly when pressured as Bornstein demonstrated again on Saturday.

So many American defenders simply do not hold the ball and then clear it well. Even after many years in the setup both centre-backs, Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu are limited in their technique and often clear the ball without properly thinking through what happens next.

The failure to clear the ball properly has been for many years an Achilles heel of American defenders. The likes of Gregg Berhalter, Jeff Agoos, Mike Burns proceeded Gooch and Bocanegra in this regard. Eddie Pope and Marcelo Balboa were general exceptions to this rule, but neither had the potential upside of Jonathan Spector.

Spector has a greater tactical sense and better poise than just about any American back over the last 20 years. Add to that an imagination down the flanks that leads to some great crosses and daring runs, and you have a keeper of a player.

I am often struck by the number of Americans fans who blame a relative newcomer for a goal and then don’t want to see that player again, yet continue to allow veterans who make the same silly mistakes for years (like Bocanegra) more leeway. From my vantage point, Carlos Bocanegra even at the height of his career in the middle part of this decade was not the caliber of footballer that Spector is today.

Continuing to play Spector for the national team will bring a better tempo, more tactical awareness and smarter man marking to the side. Dropping him for a Steve Cherundolo or someone else will simply bring the old American mistakes back into critical qualifiers and World Cup matches.

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  1. Ace

    September 8, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    Those who seem to believe anyone in CONCACAF is better than us better run for cover after tomorrow. We proved this summer that we can beat anyone, anywhere.

    We are going to prove that we not only are CONCACAF’s best but belong among the world elite.

  2. CleartheBall

    September 8, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    I agree completely. Spector did not play a perfect game, but it wasn’t bad. He came forward and crossed the ball well. His ball handling was generally good. We may not be able to pencil him in as a guaranteed starter, but he should be in the conversation. On the other hand, Bornstien was BAD. We shouldn’t see him in the lineup for a while.

  3. Brazilian G

    September 8, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    Carlos Bocanegra or Heath Pearce @ Leftback is way way better than Bornstein

  4. CC83

    September 8, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    I wholeheartedly disagree with some of your assertions. For the record, Spector is my new favorite US MNT player.

    First, Steve Cherundolo has gotten forward as well as any RB for years now and contributes with crosses and dangerous runs better than Spector. The fact that you’re overlooking that puts your opinion into perspective. Let’s think past this summer.

    Second, Spector was TERRIBLE against El Salvador. I was at the game and made a point to pay attention to him. He was beaten in the air – again – on a goal (no matter who allowed the cross into the box), he gave up the ball by being dispossessed and with errant passes to no one, his marking was off, he didn’t push forward when he should have, and some of his crosses were junk. You’re just brushing these problems aside as if they don’t matter because apparently “he’s better” than what we saw on the field.

    I think you’re right in that Spector does present some skills unique for an American player but you’re also speaking of him as if he brings those qualities or a consistent performance to every game. Even when healthy he has not been able to find a starting position for WH unless someone else is injured. He struggles against speedy players and he still loses battles a 6’1″ player should not in the air. There are things for him to work on.

    Steve Cherundolo has been playing (and starting) in Europe for much longer and he brings a different skill set to the table. Neither one are, for me, the runaway superior option. Spector has not been able to maintain or replicate his run at the Confed at WH or for country and, therefore, doesn’t warrant this blind faith.

    Specs is the future at RB for the Nats. I love the guy and I think he is great. But, right now, the USA has another great option – who is just as good at most of the things you praise Specs for – in Dolo.

  5. francesco

    September 8, 2009 at 11:38 am

    kartik with spector playing as well as he has, and gooch and demerit forming a formidable tandem in the middle, and castillo perhaps providing the option at left back, would bob bradley ever not start bocanegra? could you see him ever being left out? obviously for the USMNT to improve there needs to be competition at every spot.

  6. gmonsoon43

    September 8, 2009 at 8:59 am

    Spector played a good game overall. It seems like the main complaint against his play is he seemed lost a bit. I attribute this to Dempsey who disappeared on the right most of the evening. Once Holden came in the game Spector seemed to have a much better sense of purpose.

  7. Joey Clams

    September 8, 2009 at 8:00 am

    H John: Slow down, pal.

  8. Shane

    September 7, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    Amen Kartik. Now Spector needs to stay fit and keep his spot in the West Ham first eleven to make the progress he needs to make as a defender. He is never going to be blazing fast, but a bit more experience coupled with his natural smarts and mind for the game and he won’t get burned as he has done by elite wingers. And there is no other option anywhere close to him for what he brings going forward. Plus his utility as a squad player….

  9. H John

    September 7, 2009 at 10:25 pm

    I think we’re going to see Wednesday why we are still the team feared the most in this hemisphere other than Brazil. All these naysayers will be running for cover Wednesday night.

  10. Michael

    September 7, 2009 at 10:04 pm

    The one thing about Spector is that he needs to continue playing regularly for West Ham. He can’t get dropped by Zola and he can’t play once every couple games, he needs to be in there week in and week out, and he hasn’t shown over the course of his Premier League career that he’s able to stay in the lineup, for one reason or another.

    Also, regarding Bocanegra, as Bobby said, any shot taken against him is well-deserved, in my opinion.

  11. Cruz Azul Fan

    September 7, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    if usa is goin to depend on edgar castillo u r sorrier than u think. he is not a good defender. he can cross well, but he gets beat alot. santos and america dumped him because players like him r a dime a dozen in mexico.

  12. Bobby

    September 7, 2009 at 8:34 pm

    As always Kartik finds a way to take an uncalled for shot at Boca even when he’s not the subject of the article.

  13. Tim

    September 7, 2009 at 7:13 pm

    The only problem with Castillo is that he will admit himself that defense is the weakest part of his game, so are we sure that castillo is better defensively than boca. Although I do agree that boca has not been good enough.

  14. Seybold

    September 7, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    Well said. When Spector pushes forward and puts in a cross, I expect it to be accurate. I haven’t had that kind of feeling about any other USA fullback except Eddie Lewis when he played there. You need the crosses from fullbacks when you have a big strong forward like Altidore. Spector delivers.

    • eplnfl

      September 7, 2009 at 6:57 pm

      Seybold you hit it on the head. SPECTOR DELIVERS. Who else on the US team can put the ball into play like he does. No one. His progress just this year has been spectacular. Yes, he can work a bit on his marking but that will still come with a bit more of league experience in the EPL. Due to injuries he has not had the opportunity to develop before this time. His time appears to be here and he is getting regular club time.

      Oh, I forgot to add he is a Chicago guy!

      • CC83

        September 8, 2009 at 1:25 pm

        Um, his name is Steve Cherundolo and he’s been playing the ball forward from RB for years now.

  15. mark

    September 7, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    totally agree….spector should be a permanent choice at right back!

  16. Gods own Country

    September 7, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    Damn Kartik finally you write something that I agree on.

  17. DrJonS

    September 7, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    Spector — DeMerit — Gooch — Castillo

    That should be how we roll. You know why I pick Castillo without ever seeing him play? Becuase I have seen all the other people play left back from Berasley to Boca to Orzoco to Bornstein and they have all uniformly been pretty terrible.
    The days of just being a good wide back are over. You need to provide service and width.

  18. DrJonS

    September 7, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    I absolutely think he is one of the two best overall players we have at right back. I absolutely do not blame him for that goal, that falls squarely on Bornstein first, and then to those that allowed that ball to be crossed in the first place. When putting your defender in a nearly unwinnable situation you can’t fault him for giving up a goal or two. Also, on that play, bad positioning by Howard and he knew it. He cheated to the back far post and got beat.

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