CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON - Wednesday, May 19, 2010
With a good chance of featuring in U.S. backline come June, Jonathan Spector is shaking off a challenging season in the English Premiership and setting his sights on his first World Cup.
Following day one of training in Princeton, NJ on Monday, the defender was optimistic about the start of the pre-camp, but aware that much preparation lies ahead.
"This is certainly positive for us," the 24-year old noted in an interview with YA. "There's a lot of talented players here. It's competitive and we're pushing each other. But as it stands, no one really knows where they'll be playing, or who will be playing."
At West Ham United this season, the Illinois native featured at various positions in former coach Gianfranco Zola's backline. With fellow defenders Chad Marshall, Jay DeMerit and Carlos Bocanegra still recovering from injuries, Spector is prepared to assume any role for Bob Bradley in the U.S. defense, although his preferred position is on the right side.
"I'm naturally right-footed and I like playing as a right fullback," Spector said of his preferred position. "I'm certainly comfortable to play in any of the three positions along the backline."
Given Bocanegra's abdominal injury and Oguchi Onyewu's long road to recovery this season, the six-footer could also occupy the centerback role.
"For me personally I can certainly play there if asked to play there," Spector points out.
Should he make coach Bradley's final 23-man roster, he will compete in his first World Cup after a dislocated shoulder kept the youngster out of contention for the 2006 tournament.
Looking forward to the first World Cup match against England, the West Ham defender plays down the advantage of getting such a tough match at the outset of the group stage.
"I don't think it really matters," he added. "You've got three games, and obviously first game is really important. You want to get a good result going into the next two, but you're playing three teams and each game is of equal importance."
The defender solidified his presence in Bradley's backline at the 2009 Confederations Cup, becoming one of four players to feature in all five of the US' games.
His most recent appearance for the Nats came in last March's friendly against the Netherlands in Amsterdam, a 2-1 loss in which Spector went the distance in the backline.
Reflecting on the defeat against the then third-ranked Dutch, the defender took away valuable lessons in spite of the scoreline.
"I think we knew they were going to have a large percentage of the possession," he said of the loss in Amsterdam. "They're such a talented team. Obviously with us playing away from home, we knew they were going to have possession. We showed once again that we can defend pretty well. And when we have the opportunity to go forward, we can be pretty accurate in our passing and create some opportunities."
He also believes lessons learned from the loss can carry over to the upcoming England match.
"I think it's safe to say there will be times in the game when they have good possession and defensively it's important for us to be organized," noted Spector.
Since signing for Manchester United in 2003, Spector's six seasons of experience in the Premiership have given him ample opportunities to get to know the English players and their styles. However, the West Ham defender does not forget that it also cuts both ways.
"I certainly know how they play as a team and then individually what they're all about," he explained. "It's certainly an advantage for us. At the same time I think they know quite a few of our players as well. So whether we have the advantage or they do, it's hard to say."
Back in England, Spector's club team endured a forgettable season that saw them barely avoid relegation at the expense of head coach Gianfranco Zola.
"It was a stressful and a long season," the defender said of the 2009-2010 EPL campaign. "It's certainly important for us to keep our Premiership status but overall I think it was a pretty disappointing season by our standards."
In spite of the rough times, Spector has learned the importance of brushing them off and focusing on the future.
"Obviously we'll have a new manager coming in and probably some new players and new staff," he concluded. "I'm sure he will set the goals for us, but I think we have a good core group of players, and we'll certainly want to do much better than we did this past season."