U.S. soccer team call surprises, excites Spector
Jonathan Spector's voice betrayed a mix of happiness, relief and exhaustion.
It was late afternoon Monday, and he'd just flown into Los Angeles from London, maybe 36 hours after being called into U.S. national team camp for the upcoming two friendlies. He arrived to learn the team was headed to a training session, but he took time out to honor a commitment to a phone call.
"It's been a long day," Spector admitted.
"I'm certainly excited. It caught me a little bit off guard. I wasn't anticipating it. It's short notice obviously."
The soft-spoken Arlington Heights native has never been on the express train to the national team, never been guaranteed a call-up, yet Spector -- who famously signed with Manchester United at age 17 -- already has 31 caps at the still-young age of 25. He has struggled to maintain a spot, struggled to stay healthy, then struggled to regain the form and the career track that was derailed by those injuries.
His health intact, now Spector is taking charge of his career.
Spector surprised many soccer observers by signing over the summer with second-division Birmingham City on a free transfer instead of one of the English Premier League clubs that expressed interest. It was a calculated gamble. He wanted to play regularly -- just for the sake of playing, though it should also help him earn a spot with the national team -- and he wanted to play in the midfield. Birmingham City offered both.
Birmingham City also guarantees exposure in Europe through its Europa League qualification. In manager Chris Hughton Birmingham City provides a manager with the experience of earning promotion at Newcastle. The just-relegated club has a good chance of regaining a spot in the EPL, Spector said, and that was a factor in his decision.
Spector has played midfield so far this young season at Birmingham City, attacking midfield at first, defensive midfield more recently, depending on the formation the team used. He went 90 minutes in Sunday's 2-2 draw against Watford, then got the call from new U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann to hop a plane to Los Angeles, where the United States plays Costa Rica on Friday night (10 p.m., ESPN2, Galavision). Spector is a late call-up along with D.C. United's Chris Pontius to replace the injured Zach Lloyd and Heath Pearce.
The U.S. squad flies to Belgium after the Costa Rica match to play the host country in another friendly Sept. 6 (1:30 p.m., ESPN).
It's Spector's first time back with the national team since the 2010 World Cup. Though on the roster, he did not play in the tournament.
"Not playing was definitely a disappointment for me," he admitted, adding he maintained a professional, respectful relationship with Bradley.
Now, like many players, Spector is getting a fresh start with the national team. He was heading to training to meet Klinsmann, who was hired in July.
Under Bradley, Spector was primarily a defender, mostly at right back. The central midfield is a position of strength for the Americans, so it won't be easy for Spector to earn a spot there, especially with his late start in this camp.
"It's up to me to do well in training," he said. "All I can do is really concentrate on myself."
He might be young still, but he has learned what works best for him.
• Follow Orrin Schwarz on Twitter @orrinsoccer.