Player to Watch: Spector's stock on the rise
In recent years a rapidly improving United States national team have built their success on a seamless blend of youth and experience.
In the former category midfielder Landon Donovan shone at the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea/Japan and now another young American, left-back Jonathan Spector, is hoping to follow in his footsteps in Germany. Still very much on the fringes of the US side, the 19-year-old who is currently on loan from Manchester United at London outfit Charlton Athletic earned a start for Bruce Arena's Stars and Stripes in a recent friendly with Scotland at Hampden Park.
Arena had identified the match on 12 November as "a good way to begin the process of identifying players that might be part of our 23-man roster next year" and Spector did his prospects no harm in the 1-1 draw. Many pundits pointed him out as the best American on the pitch and Arena said after the game: "He did a good job at left-back. I think it's only his third cap."
When asked about his short-term move from United who bought him on the strength of his US junior performances right around the time of the FIFA U-17 World Championship in Finland in 2003 the athletic full-back was philosophical. "For me it's just about getting first-team football. I have to continue to develop and improve and hopefully help Charlton in the process," said Spector, who was part of the US team that reached the last 16 at the FIFA World Youth Championship in June.
A long way from home
Spector's rise to prominence as a young 'soccer' player in the States began with a semi-famous birthplace in US football circles. Arlington Heights, a suburb just outside of Chicago, is also the hometown of another American international in England, veteran striker Brian McBride.
Despite his age, boyish appearance and lack of experience, the player who went from the amateur outfit Chicago Sockers and the US youth set-up directly to Old Trafford immediately began making waves in the Premiership club's reserve team with his consistent play at the back and ability to get forward and on to the end of set-pieces. Having begun his playing career as a striker, his predatory eye around the goal is more than just a happy accident.
Such was the high opinion of him around Old Trafford that he earned his first senior appearance after only one year at the club, taking the place of Irish international John O'Shea for the Community Shield against Arsenal, the curtain-raiser to the 2004/05 season. With injuries taking a toll on the first team, Spector went on to earn a handful more starts before moving to Charlton on a year-long loan for 2005/06.
Before an unfortunate injury took him out of the Addicks' first team on the cusp of the new campaign, manager Alan Curbishley went so far as to say: "In pre-season, he looked our best defender." Fit-again by mid-September and a soon a regular in the Charlton lineup, his stock can only rise ahead of the finals in Germany next summer as he gains experience playing against some of the best strikers on the planet. There is even talk of a Christmas recall to injury-ravaged Manchester United where the American would most likely fill in for injured Argentine left-back Gabriel Heinze.
Arena will surely have to give the young man a good hard look. When asked recently about the possibility of playing in the FIFA World Cup for the USA, the teenager himself responded in predictable fashion. "It's something I would relish," said Spector, who has German ancestry. "At the same time, I don't pick the teams. But right now, I'm concentrated on what I need to do here (at Charlton)."