AMSTERDAM – At certain points in his career, Jonathan Spector going six months without missing time due to injuries would qualify as news. These days, however, the Birmingham City central defender is making news for all the reasons he prefers.
Injuries have often hounded the Illinois native at his four English stops, and since joining the Blues in the summer of 2011, Spector has missed between and 13 and 23 Championship matches each season. Now he seems to have put those setbacks in the past.
Spector is making local headlines as a solid center back on a team in the thick of the promotion race through 16 rounds. What's more, all of the excellent work with Birmingham has re-sparked the 29-year-old's US national team career. We dialed up the defensive handyman to discuss his new position and the momentum it has brought for both teams.
MLSsoccer.com: Last season was pretty rough much of the way, but the club is off to a good start this season. What has been the difference?
Spector: We didn't get off to a very good start last season, by any stretch of the imagination. Then we had a change in the manager. Garry Rowett came in, and he really just sort of made the team more solid defensively. Certainly one of his strengths is organization and getting everybody to work together as a group.
When he came in [last season], we were in the bottom three, and we finished 10th. It was a good second half of the season, and we started this season by pretty well picking up where we left off. He instills confidence. There hasn't been much [roster] turnover since he came in; he just knows how to get the best out of the players.
MLSsoccer.com: Things started to turn around last season, and last season was also when you moved to the middle of defense.
Spector: Yeah, that's right. When Garry Rowett came in, I was injured. He was familiar with me from being at previous clubs and knew I could play a number of positions. He asked what my best position was, and I told him I thought that center back was probably ultimately my best position. He seems to agree. He likes me at that position and is happy with the way I've been playing.
MLSsoccer.com: Of course, it had been a long while since you had anything other than a stray shift there. Were you a little surprised you answered the question like that?
Spector: (laughs aloud) Yeah, you're right!
MLSsoccer.com: So, at the time, was telling the boss center back was your best position a sign of confidence or a bit crazy?
Spector: (chuckles again) My versatility has always been a blessing because I've played a lot of games at different positions. But it's also been a hindrance, because it keeps me from playing where I prefer to play. I've been happy with the run of games I've had in central defense. I've always had confidence in my ability there, and it's where I feel most comfortable.
MLSsoccer.com: Do you think it's the wide range of abilities you have as a defender that makes you most comfortable in the center? Because you kind of mix everything together and center back allows you to see more of the game – to sit in a pilot's seat, so to speak?
Spector: I think my biggest strength as a player is my ability to read the game. I think that strength is most suited to central defender. I can have the play in front of me and hopefully see things before they happen, not as they happen. I can anticipate instead of reacting.
MLSsoccer.com: The last extended runs playing central defense were with US youth national teams, and now this latest club run of form has gotten you back among the [USMNT] call-ups. When they call you up, is it still more of a utility job?
Spector: We haven't discussed playing me at central defender at great length. Obviously, [US manager Jurgen Klinsmann] watches everything and knows it's what I've been playing. I'd love the opportunity with the national team at some point, but if he needs me to play as a fullback or in another role, certainly I'm happy to do that.
MLSsoccer.com: You've been through some big games and moments over the years, things like important US games and the Europa League. The injury and club struggles maybe put a lot of ambitions on hold for a while, but I guess now it's a new outlook. There's another World Cup in a few years and, of course, Birmingham is quite accustomed to accomplishing things. Things have rallied for you, so looking ahead, what are you hoping to accomplish with these teams?
Spector: I've always been motivated to have goals. Certainly, the injuries were a difficult period for me. It's behind me now, and it's a huge relief. Now that I've achieved [staying fit], getting back to the national team was a big one for me. Ultimately, yeah, I do want to go to the next World Cup. It's definitely a target I've set, and it's a big one.
From the club standpoint, I do feel that I want to get promoted with Birmingham. It's my fourth season with them now, and the reason I re-signed with Birmingham is that it's a club with ambition and they do have the ability to get promoted. Ultimately, that's what I want to do. You know, they stuck by me when I was injured with regards to when my contract expired. They've been great to me, and I certainly want to give that back.