US SoccerUS Soccer
Jonathan Spector

U.S. Defender Spector Vying for Premier League Return at Birmingham City

U.S. defender Jonathan Spector is putting together his busiest season to date since playing in England. Before Spector joined Birmingham City, it was relegated to The Championship following the 2010-11 Premier League campaign. But Spector and the Blues are very much in the hunt to return to the top flight for 2012-13.

U.S. Men’s National Team defender Jonathan Spector is currently playing the most important role of his professional tenure in England. After several seasons of off-and-on playing time within the Premier League, Spector is a key component for a Birmingham City team that is enjoying a rousing run that has the team in prime position to return to England’s top flight.

Before Spector arrived to the Blues in August of last year, Birmingham had been relegated to The Championship. The team has been on a roll over the past two months, not losing a match since its 1-0 road loss on Dec. 19, 2011, to Crystal Palace. During the unbeaten stretch, the Blues have been 6-3-0 in league play and 8-4-0 overall to move into third place.

“We’ve been on a great run as of late,” Spector said. “We knew it was going to take a while to work our way up the table because we had a few games in hand because of the Europa League. We knew that we weren’t going to be in the hunt initially. Now we’re up to third, and I think we’re two points off automatic promotion, and six points off first place, which is a great spot to be in. But we also know there are teams behind us who are fighting to work their way up the table, as well.”

The 26-year-old Arlington Heights, Ill., native is seeing more playing time with Birmingham than he has during any other previous season at West Ham United or Manchester United. Spector has played in 25 league matches and 37 in all, earning the starting nod in every match. Before Saturday’s contest against Barnsley, the Blues still have 17 league games on the docket through April.

While Spector cannot predict where he could potentially fit in within the U.S. Men’s National Team under head coach Jurgen Klinsmann down the road, the consistent playing time bodes well for him.

“It’s just been beneficial for me individually in a sense that I’m playing week in and week out and having this run of games,” Spector said. “You’re bound to improve and sharpen up on certain things, which I’ve been able to do. In past seasons, whether it’s through injuries or just being in and out of the team, it certainly makes it more difficult. Fitness isn’t an issue for me with the number of games we’ve played. Within the team I’ve started more games than anyone else, and I feel great.”

Spector has enjoyed this sense of regular stability and his heightened role at Birmingham. Spector had some stretches over the previous five seasons at West Ham when he was a frequent contributor, but there were times within the Premier League when he had hoped to contribute much more.

“I’ve been in the Premier League for so many years but was not always playing consistently,” Spector said. “Injuries were a big part of that for a couple seasons when I was at West Ham and I had two surgeries that kept me out for lengthy periods of time unfortunately. With all the changes in management and things like that, there wasn’t a lot of stability. So I just felt it was time for me to move somewhere where I would play consistently. I’m certainly getting that this year.”

Spector is not used to being on this side of the promotion/relegation dynamic, but as long as Birmingham continues its torrid pace, his Championship tenure could be a brief one.

“It’s exciting being where we’re at,” Spector said. “We’re right on the coattails of promotion and first place in the league, and we’d love to be right up there at the end of the season. If we can win the automatic promotion, that would be great. At the very least, we expect a playoff spot.

“After playing in the Premier League for a number of years, the goal has always been to get back to that.”

Spector is well known for his versatility on the pitch. He started the season in the midfield, but as of late Spector has dropped to Birmingham’s back line, which has allowed only six goals in 15 regular-season home matches.

“I started off playing the season at center midfield, which I was really enjoying,” Spector said. “But Stephen Carr got injured for a lengthy period of time, so obviously I knew I’d be playing as a fullback. I have enjoyed playing there as of late. It’s a bit of a change from what my role was at the beginning of the season, but I have enjoyed playing as a fullback. It’s on the right side, as opposed to left back, where I played for an entire season a couple years ago with West Ham.”

There have been moments during Spector’s professional time in England where he has been more of a fallback option. But with Birmingham manager Chris Hughton’s side, Spector has been a go-to factor in the starting roster because of the adaptability he brings to the table.

“It’s not as if I’m changing [positions] week in and week out,” Spector said. “But I also think after playing in a position for a few games you grow into it and you get more accustomed to it initially. Your mindset has to change in terms of what your role is within the team. I just think I’m naturally suited for both roles, whether in the midfield or as a defender.”

Spector said that Blues supporters are certainly latching onto the promotion sentiment now that Birmingham is six points behind first-place West Ham and only two points behind second-place Southampton.

“At the start of the season, the fans didn’t have the same expectations as the players in the sense that the players all felt that we could achieve promotion in this first season,” Spector said. “The fans were slightly more cynical, and probably rightfully so with the number of changes at the club. But I think now the fans feel, after seeing our performance and the run we’ve been on, I think they feel that’s certainly something we can achieve as a club.”