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Jonathan Spector's Tough Season and Great Escape

American defender Jonathan Spector faced all sorts of adversity during Birmingham City's 2013-14 campaign, but the Chicago native fought through it all and helped his club avoid relegation.

BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
May 06, 2014
11:12 AM
IT DIDN'T LOOK GOOD. Trailing Bolton 2-0 in the 78th minute on the road at Reebok Stadium, Birmingham needed a result on Saturday to avoid relegation to the third-tier League One. The club had lost five in a row and the task ahead looked daunting.

In perhaps the most dramatic English game of the season, the Blues got on the board through Nikola Zigic and then in the third minute of stoppage time equalized on a goal from Paul Caddis. Final score: 2-2. End result: The club would remain in the English Championship. The on-field celebrations were off the charts.

United States international Jonathan Spector has played in his share of important games over the years, ranging from Champions League qualifiers with Manchester United to important Premier League games at West Ham. He was also a key part of the U.S. national team’s run to the final of the Confederations Cup in 2009, where it beat Spain in the semifinals and nearly held off eventual champions Brazil.

Now at Birmingham City, Spector told American Soccer Now that the drama of surviving relegation was one of the most intense periods of his career. The season may have been disappointing, but finding a way to remain in the league provided plenty of exhilaration.

“We never doubted that we could stay in the league,” Spector said. “But when we went behind 2-0 the task certainly became more difficult. I don't think we could have stayed up if any doubt crept in.”

“I've played in some big games in the past, including having to go to Old Trafford the last day of the season needing a result to stay in the Premier League when I was at West Ham,” He added. “But nothing quite as dramatic or down to the wire as Saturday's game against Bolton.”

It was a difficult season for Spector, 28, who suffered a fractured cheekbone in preseason. Shortly returning from that injury, he tore his quad and was forced out of action until late January.

His season took a turn for the better once the Chicago returned to full health. He played every single game the rest of the way en route to helping the Blues remain in the Championship. Spector has one season left on his contract and knows that his club is capable of better than it has shown in recent years.

In 2011, Birmingham City was relegated out of the Premier League and since then it has tumbled down the ranks within the Championship. The major reason for this has been the downfall of controversial owner Carson Yeung who has held a majority stake in the club since 2009.

In February, the Hong Kong-based Yeung was forced to relinquish management of the club due to his involvement in a money laundering scandal. The following month he was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison for his involvement. The mood around the club suffered as a result.

“I am very frustrated because it’s the first time in my career we have lost so many games, more games than I would have wanted to,” head coach Lee Clark told the Birmingham Mail. “Without a doubt it’s tough. People who know me know that even one defeat hurts, so to have had so many, it is a problem. In terms of the club and the people I am managing the club for—the supporters—they are second to none. I fight for them every day and that’s why it hurts me, because I don’t like to have fantastic support be let down by what’s happening in terms of their club.”

Now with the saga behind them and potential bidders looking to acquire the club, Spector is optimistic that the club can now set it sights on a return to the Premier League.

“The financial difficulties surrounding the club have been well documented,” Spector said. “With that said, I do think the club will be able to move past this difficult time. The players and staff need to learn from the experience of this season and use it as motivation for the future. Birmingham City is a massive football club and ultimately the goal has to be a return to the Premier League.”

The injuries that have forced Spector to miss significant time for Birmingham City has also hurt his standing within the national team. As a result, Spector has not seen much action with Jurgen Klinsmann’s team since 2011. He was recently called up for a friendly against Ukraine in November but was an unused substitute.

Spector, who has 34 caps, acknowledges his frustration with the timing of his injuries but hopes for a return to the national team soon.

“It's been disappointing to be forced to pull out of a number of games with the U.S. team over the past couple of seasons due to injury,” Spector said. “But the national team is always something that is in the back of my mind, if not the forefront.”

“Representing my country is a special opportunity, and the World Cup is the biggest stage to do that,” he continued. “We have a competitive group, but if we truly want to win the World Cup as a nation, then we will have to beat the best teams.”

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

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