He hasn’t been with the U.S. Under-20s since February of 2004, which means Jonathan Spector is getting to know the teammates he’s never met on the team this week in Holland. We figured you might be curious as to what Jonathan has been up to since his long spell away from the U.S. national team scene, so ussoccer.com sat down with the Manchester United defender to talk about everything from his nightmare trip to Holland, to his past year with Man U and what he thinks about the team’s chances in the FIFA World Youth Championship.
“What was originally going to be a long trip turned out to be an extremely long trip. I started out in Chicago with the team trainer Jeff Thomas and doctor Adam Bennett, so at least I had good company for the trip, but unfortunately the rest of the trip didn’t go as well as expected. We started out at O’Hare International Airport on our way to Newark, but unfortunately we had to make an emergency landing, as there was smoke in the cockpit. We landed in Cleveland and about an hour later we were on our flight to Newark. Because we were delayed in Cleveland we missed out flight to Amsterdam with the rest of the team. We were re-routed to Paris and from Paris we caught a flight to Amsterdam. In the process, I lost my luggage (as it did not come off the baggage claim).
You practiced with the U.S. Men’s National Team last week in Chicago and were on the roster for the match against England. How was that?
“I was out for about four weeks at the end of the season with Manchester United due to an injury. I came back to Chicago and talked with Bruce Arena and he invited me into the camp, so I trained with the team for about a week and then I was on the bench in the game against England. It was pretty exciting for me to be part of the squad at Soldier Field against England, against some of my teammates.”
How did your first season go with Manchester United?
“There were some injuries at the beginning of the season to start in a few first team games. I started three games. The first was a Champions League qualifier against Dynamo Bucharest, the second was against Blackburn Rovers away and then the third game I started at the beginning of the year was against Everton. That was a special game for me because I was awarded the “Man of the Match” after the game. I played in a few more games coming off the bench as players got back from injury and international duty, such as the Olympics and things like that. I played quite a few games with the reserves, but unfortunately I injured my ankle midway through the season before the Champions League game against Lyon, so I was unable to play in that game and the upcoming first team games. I came back and played more games in the reserves and during my Christmas break I was called back (to the full team) by Sir Alex Ferguson to help out the team because there were some injuries again. I played a few more games with the first team and then I was supposed to be on loan to Blackburn, but unfortunately that got cancelled due to injuries. By the time the transfer window was closed no one was back from injury, but shortly after everyone was back from injury and I went back to the reserves again because it is a deep squad.
What is the process of being transferred?
“The manager and I sat down and he decided that was best for me. He didn’t think playing in the reserves was the best option for me, or was going to help me. He thought I needed to be playing first team football and it was difficult for me to break into the starting lineup with Manchester United because there are so many world class players. So, it was his decision to send me over there and his decision to cancel it because he needed me as back-up.
Did someone call you and tell you about the cancellation?
“The manager called me into his office again and said that he needed to cancel the loan for his reasons, but I was happy to be at the club. It still is a fantastic club and I was happy to be part of Manchester United.”
Is there any possibility you might be going someplace next year?
“There is a possibility of a loan next year as well. Whether it is for six months or a year, I really have no idea. Nothing is definite and as you know, and as I’ve learned, things change all the time. But, there is a strong possibility of going on loan next year.”
Lets talk a bit about what Manchester United has been in the news for lately – Malcolm Glazer. How are the players effected, if at all?
“I can’t really let it affect me. I’m there to win games and win trophies for the team. How the club is run, I have no control over. I’m just there to do my job and win trophies for the team like I said. I think the fans may have issues with that, but that’s for them, not for me.”
Wasn’t there a protest at a game you were playing?
“There’s been a number of protests, but the particular one you mentioned was a reserve game. I don’t remember who it was against now, it was about five or six months ago. During the game fans went onto the field chanting, “Manchester United is not for sale” and singing.”
Lets move on to why you are in Holland, the FIFA World Youth Championship. You haven’t been with the U.S. Under-20s since February of 2004. How do you think you’ll be able to get acclimated to the team?
“I haven’t been with the team all that much because of my responsibility to my club. It has been difficult to get time off to be with the U-20 team, but I’m looking forward to the World Championship. I think Sigi (Schmid) is a great coach and from what I heard and seen with the results, he has done s great job with the team. There are a lot of talented players that are going to be here in Holland. I think we have a really good opportunity to compete and win the World Championship. In regard to getting used to the team, we don’t have our first game until another eight or nine days so I’ll have time to get used to the guys. I’m sure they’ll all good guys. I know quite a few of them all ready already from national teams and I follow them in the MLS and college, and things like that. I don’t think it will be a problem getting used to any of the guys.”
You played in the Under-17 World Championship and there are a number of guys on that team that are with you in Holland…
“That is correct. For example, Eddie Gaven, now with the MetroStars, was down in Bradenton with the 17s, and he’ll be here now. (There’s also) Danny Szetela, Jacob Peterson, Quentin Westberg. I’m probably missing a few, but there are definitely a number of guys that were involved in the U.S. Under-17 World Championship, who will be involved in this (tournament). I think that will help to have experience in world competition.”
What was your first thought of the USA’s draw in Group D with Argentina, Germany and Egypt?
“Obviously, it is a very tough group, but it will be better to get them out of the way in the very beginning. We need to just take it one game at a time and our first game is against Argentina. Right now, that’s really all I’m focused on.”
What’s the USA’s mentality going up against teams powers like Germany and Argentina? Do you think it has it changed over the past 10 years where you now feel you can play with and beat any team?
“I think the players have always felt that they’d be able to compete and win games. There may have been some spectators that believed it may have been difficult, but as a player I know that I go into each game with the belief that we have the chance to win the game because if you don’t do that you really don’t have a chance. The mentality that the U.S. can’t compete against certain teams I don’t agree with because I go into every game thinking we have a chance to win it and I know every other player does as well, but sometimes it doesn’t go your way.”