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Sciaretta's Scouting Report

Six-Foot-Five Striker Ben Spencer, 19, Has Big Plans

From Molde to Indy Eleven to the U.S. U-20 men's national team at the Dallas Cup, 19-year-old target forward Ben Spencer is making a sizable impression wherever he goes.

BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
April 23, 2014
11:29 AM
THE UNITED STATES men's U-20 national may have lost to River Plate in the finals of last week's Dallas Cup, but it learned something crucial along the way: Ben Spencer is a dynamic forward and a key figure in Tab Ramos' squad.

In the opening game against River Plate, Spencer scored two goals en route to a 3-2 U.S. victory. In the dramatic win over Fluminense in the semifinal, Spencer headed in a cross from Romain Gall to give the Americans a 2-1 lead in a game it would win 3-2 in extra time.

And in the finale against River Plate, Spencer appeared to score a late equalizer only to have it ruled offside in the team's 2-0 loss.

“The ending wasn’t quite what we hoped for but we can definitely take some positives from the week,” Spencer told American Soccer Now. “We’re getting closer to the core group of guys who we’ll take the rest of the cycle through qualifying and hopefully to the World Cup. Every opportunity we have to play with each other is a positive, and to play against quality teams like River Plate, Fluminense, and Tigres—that’s obviously a big plus for us.”

“We have good personalities on the team,” Spencer added. “We have fairly good chemistry for not playing with each other on a regular basis. We have a lot of talented players so I think we’ve meshed quite well. This week has been a step forward.”

Ramos agrees: “Ben Spencer is a good player and can do a lot more than just win headers,” Ramos said. “He can play on the ground. He holds the ball for us. He can do a lot.”

At six-foot-five, Spencer towers over most of his teammates and plays as a true target forward. He is learning how to use his body to dominate the aerial game, and his hold-up play makes him a formidable weapon for the Americans.

Having recently turned 19, Spencer is now entering a transformative year in his career. Last year he elected to bypass college and move to Europe. He attracted the interest of then-Molde head coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who signed the teen to a four-year contract.

Solskjaer had demonstrated an eagerness to worth with American players, having also signed Joshua Gatt and Ethan Horvath. For Spencer, however, a chance to learn under the former Manchester United striker—the baby-faced assassin—was almost too good to be true.

“Learning from him as a forward was unbelievable,” Spencer said of Solskjaer. “I learned a lot from him and the staff was great as well. I think I learned what it takes to be a professional and what the level is like in Europe as well—what you have to do on and off the field to really perform your best."

"If you’re not on the top of your game, there are a ton of other players ready to take your spot. It was eye-opening but I definitely learned a lot and I enjoyed my time there. "

Unfortunately for Spencer, he suffered an injury soon after he signed and missed nearly four months of his first season. When he returned, he played with the second team to regain fitness and eventually joined the first team at the end of the season. This past offseason, Solskjaer left the club to take over at Cardiff City in the Premier League, and Spencer pushed for an opportunity to earn first-team minutes. Molde agreed and made him available for loan.

Back in the United States, North American Soccer League club Indy Eleven was set to mark its inaugural season and the team’s head coach, former U.S. national team goalkeeper Juergen Sommer, knew Spencer from his days as a youth player. Sommer was impressed with Spencer’s willingness to move abroad at a young age and his professionalism on and off the field. Sommer invited Spencer to train with the club in February and, after a few days, formally signed Spencer to a season-long loan.

“What he brings you from the air and from his pure size and ability—he brings a different dimension to the offense, something that we need here on our team,” Sommer said of his young forward. “We want to enjoy working with him and hopefully build him up and help him have a great professional and international career. It’s a great chance for us to work with a young and upcoming player."

"You look at some of the top European club teams," Sommer added, "whether it's Bayern Munich or Liverpool, you get guys with some size and they just create some real problems and issues for teams defensively. We just see Ben as being one of those guys.”

It doesn't hurt that Spencer is a role model in terms of his preparation and commitment.

"I love working with Ben Spencer," Sommer added. "He comes early, and stays late. He wants to do extra finishing. He's asking a lot of questions. He's hungry. It is so refreshing to work with guys like that—they just can't get enough. Once training is over, you have other guys who can't wait to get out of there. He can't wait until training ends so he can work on his position-specific stuff. You know the guys got a bright future because he's willing to do all the extra stuff." Spencer sees the opportunity to play games against full-grown men rather than teenagers will help him develop crucial skills. During his time at Indy Eleven, Spencer will remain in contact with Molde and send the Norwegian club regular updates on his progress. Spencer makes it clear that he would “like to return back to Europe” once his loan is done but he definitely appreciates the opportunity in Indianapolis.

“I never really expected to come back stateside, to be honest,” Spencer said. “But the opportunity came up and I was looking for a loan move and somewhere where I could play matches and get as much experience as I could. This city is really behind this team. There’re some quality players here and hopefully I’ll get a lot of matches. It’s definitely a growing league. I think the level will be good. It will definitely be a good next challenge for me as a player.”

Sommer agrees that Spencer will be challenged at Indy Eleven despite it being the second tier of American soccer behind MLS. Sommer hopes to make his club a place for young players to showcase their potential.

As a player, Sommer came out of college and moved to Europe where he became most known for his tenure at Queens Park Rangers from 1995-1998 before coming to MLS to play for the Columbus Crew. He realizes the difficulties of being a young professional and wants to open doors at Indy Eleven—even though he knows his best players will move on.

“Our intention with a Ben Spencer is not to make him a lifelong NASL guy," Sommer said. "It’s to just get him the platform to get games and experience and in maybe a year or two, he is off and running to bigger things.”

“They just have to go someplace where they can play games,” he continued. “It doesn’t help you to be with big clubs when you’re not playing on the first team.”

For Spencer, the future is bright, as he is now entrenched on a U-20 team that could potentially feature elite attacking prospects like Utrecht’s Rubio Rubin, Bayern Munich’s Julian Green, and Tijuana’s Paul Arriola at the 2015 World Cup.

“It’s definitely a goal for me to be part of the U-20 World Cup team and a lot of the guys feel the same way,” Spencer said. “We’re all excited about the potential opportunity to play in a World Cup. We have a very talented team that can potentially do very well.”

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

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