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Ahead of Schedule - Spector Making a Splash at Man. U

He's only 18, but so far Arlington Heights, Ill., native Jonathan Spector has already left an indelible mark at Manchester United during the past few weeks, starting three straight games for arguably the biggest club in the world. The former U.S. Under-17 Residency player kicked off his promotion to the senior squad this week by playing 90 minutes at left back against Dinamo Bucharest in a Champions League game, before getting his first start in the English Premier League, playing 75 minutes against Blackburn on Saturday and following it up with another 90 minute showing against Everton at Old Trafford. Oh, and did we forget to mention he was named Man of the Match for his efforts against Everton. Yeah, we know…amazing.

What's even more astonishing is Spec has only been playing on the backline for about two years. Talented, but riding the pine as he was behind a slew of more-than-capable forwards - including Freddy Adu and Eddie Gaven - for a starting position in Residency, the 6-footer was thrown into the center back position at halftime against Wales at the 2002 Ballymena Tournament in Northern Ireland after U-17 head coach John Ellinger was frustrated with the play of his defense. In a classic moment, Ellinger told his assistant John Hackworth as they walked into the locker room at halftime, "Spector's going in on defense! You've got 10 minutes to teach him everything he needs to know."

Well, either Hackworth said all the right things or Spector just took to the position (maybe a little of both) as he helped the team comeback to win 2-1 and started at central back for the remainder of his time with the U-17s. In fact, the next game he started was what triggered his move to Manchester as he shut down the Austrian forward that a United scout had come to see, forcing him to take notice of this no-name defender from the United States. (Click here to read more about Spector's journey from the bench to Man. U). was interested to hear what Spector thought about his whirlwind week and his future at the club and was able to track him down earlier this week for a one-on-one interview with the Manchester United youngster. You got your first start with Manchester United's first team during their tour in the USA this summer. What was that experience like for you?

Jonathan Spector: “It was a little bit different in the pre-season (in the United States) because there were a lot of guys injured still and a lot of guys didn’t make the trip, but it was obviously my debut with the first team. It was fantastic, especially to be able to play in front of a home crowd, if you will, with all my friends and family there. To play in Chicago with one of the best clubs in the world in front of family and friends in a home stadium was an unbelievable experience that not too many players get the opportunity to have. It was really exciting. I wasn’t really nervous or anything like that, I was just excited and anxious about the opportunity. I started the next game in Philadelphia and that went well. Each time I got more and more used to playing with the first team. When I made the Champions League debut and the English Premier League game each time was a new experience for me. It’s been a great experience so far and each game I’ve been able to take something away from it and learn something, which is the important thing.” We heard you didn’t know you were making your debut against Dinamo Bucharest in the Champions League qualifying game on Aug. 25 until the day of the match. How and when did you actually find out you would be starting?
JS: “We stayed in a hotel in Manchester during the day of the game where we had the pre-game meal and then watched video on (Dinamo Bucharest). From there we went to the stadium and had our team talk maybe an hour to hour and a half before kickoff where we went through the starting line-up. (Sir Alex) Ferguson was talking about the starting team and we were going through the starting line-up and he said that the back four was going to be this, this and this, and my name came up. It was a shock to me because I had expected they would have told me I was going to be starting since it would be my debut and everything, but they didn’t.” What was your initial reaction?

JS: “I was taken aback and kind of kind of surprised, but then I figured I should probably focus and listen to what he is telling us to do. I really didn’t have time to let it all sink in because it was all happening so fast and I had to pay attention to what the he was telling and what the game plan was. So, it really didn’t sink in until afterwards about how big of an event this was for me, but I was thinking this was a great opportunity to show people I really can play.” A week later you were named Man of the Match in just your second EPL game against Everton. Were you surprised to win?
JS: “I didn't know until one of the guys that works in the public relations department told me after the game. It was bittersweet though because we didn’t get the result that we wanted. I was honored to get the Man of the Match, especially playing at home against a great team in Everton. I had to go onto a small stage set up on the field after the game to receive it as a bottle of champagne was presented to me, so that’s what I’m going to give my parents when they come over in October.” Did you ever expect you'd be able to make the jump to the first team after just over a year at the club?

JS: “I never had a timetable or a schedule for any of it. A lot of people at the club were telling me I was way ahead of schedule and I was thinking, ‘Well, what schedule is that? I didn’t know I had one (laughing).' But, I didn’t really set a timetable for when I would make the first team. My mindset was just that I had to continue working hard and continue to develop and improve, then hopefully I would eventually make the first team. So, I don’t know if I’d say it was early or late, it all just happened so fast and I really didn’t have a schedule on when I’d make the first team.” You came into U.S. Soccer’s U-17 Residency as a midfielder and spent time as a forward before finally being converted into a defender a little over two years ago. What has the transition been like?
JS: “I’ve learned so much over the course of two years going from a striker to a central defender (with the U-17s) and its all happened so fast it has been such a learning experience for me. Each day I felt more and more comfortable as a central defender and now Manchester United has me playing as a left back – and I’m right-footed – which is another new experience for me. I think I’ve just had to adapt to a number of situations and positions to get to where I am now.” What's the best advice you’ve received off the field?
JS: “To be honest the coaches don’t say a whole lot. They actually just want to see you play and make decisions for yourself, so they don’t give you a ton of information. Obviously, in certain aspects of the game they will give you advice. The best advice I’ve probably gotten was probably from the last team talk. Alex Ferguson was saying that you just have to enjoy yourself, enjoy playing, do what you want to do and be creative. I think that is probably the best advice because everyone was kind of down about a lot of players being injured and not having the best start to our season.” What's the best advice you’ve received from teammates on the field?
JS: “All the players have been very helpful. When I first started, they all introduced themselves – even though I obviously knew who they were – and they’ve all been great guys and down to earth. Probably in particular Mikael Silvestre, the left center back, he’s been helpful with his communicating during the games, which has been a big plus. Ryan Giggs, who’s been playing left midfield has been very helpful as well. Having two senior players that are two of the best players in the world is unbelievable to learn from and I just take everything in that they have to tell me.” What’s been the hardest adjustment to playing in the EPL?

JS: “The biggest difference is the speed in which they play, everything happens so fast. You can tell they are thinking so far ahead of what is actually happening – the run they are going to make, how they are going to set you up. It is just the pace at which the game is played, it’s just so much faster than what I’m used to.” What do you try to do to settle into the game?

JS: “My first touch of the game I always play one or two touch to get into the flow of the game because it is much quicker than any other level I’ve ever played in previously. I always try to play quick for the first few minutes and then when I get in a rhythm start making runs forward.” What are your ambitions with the U.S. MNT?

JS: “Obviously, I would like to play with the full men’s national team. It is every American soccer players’ dream to be able to play for their country and win the World Cup with them. Right now though, I’m just focusing on what I’m doing here at Man United. When I get the call up, whether it be for the U-20s or the (full) national team, then I'll concentrate on that. I love playing for my country and had a fantastic experience with the U-17 team in the Residency program and I was very close with all those guys and still keep in touch with them. I do love playing for my country, but right now I’m just focused with what I’m doing with Man United.” What’s a typical day for you with the club?

JS: “I don’t know if you can ever call it typical as it is always changing depending on our schedule, but usually I get up in the morning and get to training which is at 10:30. We will train for about an hour-and-a-half or two hours depending on what our schedule is with games (that week) because we play a lot of games during the season and with the traveling it is always different. We’ll train one session in the morning and then maybe do weights afterwards or a stretching session. It is always different to be honest.” What do your friends back home ask about the most?

JS: “They always just ask how the soccer is going because that is obviously what I’m here for. They ask how I’ve been playing, who I’ve been playing with and which teams we’ve been playing against. Now I have a few good stories to tell with making my debut and the Man of the Match thing.” How has living in England been for the past year and a half?
JS: “I’m still living with a family. I hopefully will move out when I get a chance, but it’s not the right time at this point. Eventually, I will get my own place though. I just got a car two days ago actually. Right now, I actually have the loaner, which is actually better than the car I bought so I don’t mind. It’s a little different driving on the roads over here as they are a bit more narrow, but its something I’ll get used to.” Do you have a lot of interaction with the fans?

JS: “I do actually. After training sessions when you come out of Carrington they have the barriers there obviously, but there are always kids waiting there to sign autographs, so I stop an sign some things for them. The fans are fantastic and everyone knows your name and knows who you are. During the games, the atmosphere is just unbelievable with them cheering the entire game and how loud it is.” Have you converted any fans to your mullet hairstyle in England yet?
JS: “Not yet (laughing). I think it’s still a little bit early for that, but we’ll see.”