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Spector healthy, but struggling

Monday, April 26, 2010
Apr 26
In the shadow of the monumental injury doubts facing the U.S. national team, there's been less time to focus on the form of healthy players, especially those receiving regular time at their clubs in Europe. At this point, Bob Bradley needs all the healthy bodies he can get, and -- especially on defense -- the form book will have to go out the window as the coach tries to fill out a thin back line.

Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo and Jay DeMerit have all missed games to injury of late. With Oguchi Onyewu still making his way back from a knee injury suffered in October, Jonathan Spector is the last man regularly standing among probable starting choices for the June 12 opener against England.

So it's good news that Spector has been getting loads of game time for West Ham United coach Gianfranco Zola, even if it has come as the Hammers have waged a desperate battle against relegation. At least one American defender is healthy and playing regularly, after all.

But Spector's play has stood out over the last few months for all the wrong reasons. His own goal in the third minute of Saturday's game against Wigan was overshadowed when West Ham came from behind to essentially secure another year of Premier League soccer. Though the American defender did improve from that horrid start over the course of the match, his recent performances have been all too frequently disastrous.

The own goal was the latest in a string of miscues that have cost the Hammers points, and Spector shoulders his share of the blame as a talented squad remained in the thick of the relegation battle late into the season. Though playing against some of the top wingers in the world on a weekly basis is a stiff test, on the eve of the World Cup it hasn't been encouraging to watch the ease with which attackers such as Chelsea's Florent Malouda and Manchester United's Antonio Valencia have made the case that Spector is simply not up to the task.

Spector has been filling in for the injury-plagued Herita Ilunga at left back, and it now seems that it's not the American's best position. That won't have Bradley resting any easier, since just a few months ago Spector was looking like a solid option at the national team's most troubling spot.

It may turn out that Spector will emerge from this rough patch by June, and that the Premier League baptism of fire at left back will only help the Americans in the end. But on the current evidence, he doesn't seem to be the answer.

And there's some more bad news for the Americans, as Tottenham attacker and England international Aaron Lennon made his first appearance since December over the weekend. The speedy winger is Fabio Capello's first choice on the right, and could be rounding into form just in time for the World Cup showdown, with the left side of the American defense still not settled.

--Brent Latham

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