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.