ORLANDO, Fla. - Jonathan Spector insists he will hit his first MLS season running with Orlando City SC, thanks to keeping in touch with the league during his 13 years in England and being match-ready for the preseason campaign.
Spector is the Lions’ latest signing but he has not previously played in MLS. However, the versatile defender brushes off any suggestion he won’t be ready for the new challenge.
“The last couple of years Sky Sports asked me to do some commentary on MLS games in England,” the 30-year-old Spector said. “Every opportunity I had, I did it, so I was able to follow the league and it got me more and more interested. I was impressed by the continually improving standard, so I did know quite a bit about it.
“Obviously Orlando is a newer team but speaking to [head coach] Jason [Kreis] and Niki [Budalic] the GM, it seemed an exciting project. I’ve been in touch with various players throughout the years from national team camps, but I didn’t speak to anyone specifically before signing for Orlando. I had a good conversation with Jason about what they wanted to do, and to me it was just a really good fit.”
While most of his new teammates are still getting their legs under them, Spector expects to have an advantage, at least at first.
“I am coming off 20-odd games for Birmingham, whereas the guys here are still in the early stages of preseason, so I’m coming in fully match-fit,” he insisted. “It will obviously be a longer season than I’m used to, about 16 months in all, so it’s a physical challenge, but it’s one I am definitely up for.
“There are a lot of players who have come from Europe recently. Some have done really well, others not so well. But I think I have an advantage as I’ve been following the league from its inception, growing up and watching it develop, so for me it’s not really as an outsider. I was also able to go to MLS games during my offseason from England, so I probably know more about it than other players from Europe.”
Spector is not fazed by high expectations of being the lynchpin in an urgent defensive rebuilding program under Kreis. The head coach singled him out as the key new acquisition among six new signings this year, but Spector insists the task is not daunting.
“I don’t see it as extra pressure,” he said. “I’ve played in a lot of pressure situations throughout my career, so it’s not something I’m worried about. What I am focused on is what I can do to help the team, in whatever role that may be, whether it’s a leadership role, communication, whatever it might be.
“It is just a case of getting to know one another. Certainly there is a lot to do in preseason, that’s why it was important to be here as close to the start of training as I could. Jason and the rest of the staff will set up how they want us to play, then it’s up to us to ensure we’re doing that, making sure we’re making the right decisions and communicating well. If we’re able to do that, we’ll be successful.”
Despite the last of his 36 international caps being in September 2015, Spector waves off any thoughts of his return to MLS being an overt bid to regain a place under new US head coach Bruce Arena.
“Bruce actually gave me my first cap in a World Cup qualifier against Jamaica but that’s not my main focus or a reason for coming back,” said Spector. “My concentration is on my team here, the league, and hopefully achieving something with Orlando. Certainly we want to make the playoffs, and if we’re able to do that and I’m able to play well, hopefully those national team calls will come, but that’s out of my hands.”