Jonathan Spector

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USMNT Gold Cup 23-man roster leaves some questions

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We have Bruce Arena’s 23-man United States men’s national roster for the Gold Cup, and there are more than a few surprises left out of the bunch.

Often a chance to experiment, those who thought this year’s Gold Cup roster would be one aimed at reclaiming glory with authority may be surprised to see the status quo.

Jurgen Klinsmann brought most of his big guns to the 2015 party — which didn’t go well for Brad Guzan and Co. — but Arena will roll into this summer’s tournament without most of his big names. There’s no Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey, nor Jozy Altidore.

Those aren’t huge surprises, though who Arena neglected from his original 40-man short list is a bit of a shock to the system (Players can be called into the mix after the group stage, which is a fairly simple affair for the USMNT to navigate versus Panama, Martinique, and Nicagarua).

Arena is going with Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, and Bill Hamid in a trio that fails to impress. Hamid does have a big crowd of fans who’d like to see him get a chance to assert himself as the future, and hopefully either Johnson or Hamid finds time between the sticks against a serious opponent like Panama. No surprise that Tim Howard and Joe Bendik didn’t leap into the trio (EDIT: This post initially questioned the omission of Jesse Gonzalez, but his one-time switch from Mexico to the USMNT has yet to go through).

We’ll ignore the omission of Danny Williams for the most part considering he was absent from the 40-man list, but he must have said something seriously awful to Arena or someone at U.S. soccer.

The group of forwards leaves little to complain about, as Juan Agudelo and Dom Dwyer very much deserve their chances to compete for playing time with Sounders star Jordan Morris, but the midfield provides some head-scratching. Gyasi Zardes may be a longtime Arena favorite, but the Galaxy man has been ice cold in MLS. The 25-year-old has a single assist in almost 1000 minutes of play this season, and that came back on April 8. Tommy McNamara has not lighting the league on fire and Chris Pontius and his six assists are 30 years old, so much of the grief should be directed at the 40-man again, but Zardes has to embrace this opportunity. And maybe it’s a way to help the Galaxy and Zardes get a little mojo.

As an aside, Wil Trapp is among leaders in several MLS passing stats, which leads me to believe Arena is going to play Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta a ton and doesn’t see much of a need for Trapp in this tournament, not ever.

Defenders Steve Birnbaum and Jonathan Spector were not rewarded with looks, though Graham Zusi was included in what must be an arm reaching out for USMNT experience. Birnbaum is leading MLS in aerials won per game and Spector is by far Orlando’s top rated player since returning from England. Yes, Spector is 31 but this is about still qualifying for next summer’s World Cup, not the 2022 cycle. Spare a thought for Matt Polster, who has been decent since returning from a knee strain. This is nothing against Zusi, a consummate professional who won’t kill the team by any means and will be an tremendous asset in leadership.

What about you? Any other gripes? Or do you love the bunch?

Orlando City is quickly becoming one of the top sides in MLS

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Coming into the 2017 MLS season, Orlando City had a lot of questions that needed answering.

[ MORE: Dzemaili is ready to join the Impact early ]

Second-year head coach Jason Kreis did well last season after taking over for the departed Adrian Heath but again, the former MLS striker had his work cut out for himself and his staff.

[ MORE: D.C. United tops Atlanta after slow start ]

Fast forward over the first two months of the season and the Lions are currently atop the Eastern Conference and Supporters’ Shield table, and it doesn’t appear that Kreis and co. will relinquish that standing any time soon.

Cyle Larin has established himself as one of MLS’ top scorers during his first two-plus seasons in the league. His six goals thus far ranks second in MLS, only trailing Houston Dynamo attacker Erick “Cubo” Torres.

Larin won’t be able to do it by himself, but Kaka’s return is already paying dividends for the side after the Brazilian scored in his first match back from injury on Saturday against the Colorado Rapids.

It’s not Orlando’s offense that is catching the attention of many around MLS though, but instead the club’s completely revamped backline.

In the club’s first two seasons, the Lions allowed 116, which is tied with the Chicago Fire for the most of any team during that span of time.

Additions of Jonathan Spector, Donny Toia and MLS veteran Will Johnson has played vital roles in the team’s defensive turnaround, particularly Spector, who has started all seven Orlando City matches at centerback.

It’s Spector’s budding partnership with USMNT hopeful Tommy Redding that has allowed the Lions to quickly become one of the most stout defensive units in MLS. So far, Orlando has conceded five goals, the second fewest behind only Sporting KC’s three allowed.

Couple these factors in with Orlando’s seemingly impenetrable home-field advantage and the Lions have all the makings of a dangerous side in 2017. The club has yet to lose at home this season, starting out with five consecutive victories at Orlando City Stadium.

It’s clearly too early to state that Orlando will run away with the East or even clinch a playoff spot for that matter, but considering Kreis’ influence and all the proper adjustments the squad made during the offseason it seems like a pretty safe bet that this team will be playing into late October and beyond.

Jonathan Spector lands in Orlando City (video)

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Birmingham City coach Gianfranco Zola didn’t want to lose Jonathan Spector, but knew the American defender wanted to head home.

Now we know his destination.

Spector, 30, is back in the United States with Orlando City after almost a decade and a half in Europe with Manchester United, Charlton Athletic, West Ham United, and Birmingham City.

[ MORE: Onyewu, Adu at MLS camps ]

The last six seasons were spent with Birmingham, where he played 179 times for the Championship side.

Spector appeared eight times for Manchester United in 2003 with three of those matches coming in the Premier League. He made 20 PL appearances for Charlton, and 101 more for West Ham.

It’s a big pickup for Orlando. We just wish it would’ve happened in time for Spector to join USMNT camp.

American defender Will Packwood released by Birmingham City, while Spector’s extended

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21-year-old American defender Will Packwood has thanked Birmingham City for eight years of loyalty after moving on from the club at the expiry of his contract.

The Championship side announced it has parted ways with Packwood, and the player posted a message on Twitter to express his gratitude for the club that groomed him as a youth and gave him his first professional contract.

He made just one appearance with the club in the Championship this year, instead spending the second half of the season on loan to League One club Colchester United and League Two side Cheltenham Town. He appeared just six total times for his loan clubs, scoring once in League Two.

Despite the occasional speculation surrounding a possible call-up, Packwood has yet to make his USMNT debut, but has been with the youth side for some time, making three appearances for the U-23 team last year and logging nine appearances for the U-20 team since 2010. He joined Birmingham City as a 14-year-old, and the club remained loyal to him despite a horrific leg-break injury in early 2013, even offering him an extension during his recovery.

Meanwhile, after re-solidifying his place in the first team, fellow American Jonathan Spector has been offered a new two-year contract by Birmingham City with an option for a third year, the club announced. The 29-year-old defender made 23 appearances in the Championship this season, only hampered by a thigh injury mid-season but otherwise remaining a constant fixture in the first team. The club finished a solid 10th in the Championship this season, although their defensive record was poor, conceding 64 goals, more than any club 14th or higher in the table.

Spector has been with Birmingham since 2011 when he moved from West Ham, and has made at least 22 appearances in every league season since joining. The Manchester United youth product also owns six seasons of Premier League experience with the Hammers and Charlton.

Americans Abroad review: Evaluating the Yanks in England

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There was a time when just playing in England was a badge for Americans, a time that’s long since rightly evolved into a performance-based model.

For this week’s look at how Yanks are performing in England from A-to-Z — or W — we’ll go a little deeper. A week before the transfer window and with only England on the pitch, it’s as good a chance as any to evaluate the whys of who is doing what where.

[ US: Ramos calls up U-20 players ]

Altidore, Jozy
Club: Sunderland
Since: Summer 2013
This week: Unused sub in 0-0 draw at Aston Villa
Status: With three goals in 50 total appearances, the question isn’t whether Altidore will leave Sunderland, it’s where he’ll sign next. Lille and Werder Bremen have been documented as frontrunners, but Altidore needs to go somewhere else soon. His scoring record with the USMNT shows he can do it, so a change of scenery and league could do the trick as the US plans for a busy few summers worth of tournaments.

Cameron, Geoff
Club: Stoke City
Since: Summer 2012
This week: played 90 mins at right back in a 2-0 win over visiting Hull City
Status: Cameron prefers to play in the midfield, but has been worked all over the pitch for the Potters. Since returning to full fitness he’s started every game for Mark Hughes, and has only been subbed off twice. As valuable to his club as any American field player in a top European league save perhaps Ale Bedoya at Nantes.

[ RELATED: Geoff Cameron’s blogs for NBC Sports ]

Friedel, Brad
Club: Tottenham Hotspur
Since: Summer 2011
This week: DNP
Status: Signed through 2015 and a club ambassador to the United States, Friedel has only even hit the substitute’s bench five times this season. The 43-year-old is doing fine.

source: Getty Images
Guzan

Guzan, Brad
Club: Aston Villa
Since: July 2008
This week: played 90 minutes in a 0-0 draw vs. Sunderland
Status: Guzan has received more than a single goal of support from Villa a whopping two times this season, and the 30-year-old remains the Villans first-choice stopper. He’s an integral part of their team and has no reason to move unless a monster club came calling, which doesn’t seem to be the case.

Holden, Stuart
Club: Bolton Wanderers
Since: January 2010
This week: DNP
Status: Bolton’s been faithful to Holden through his horrific spate of injuries, and the world of soccer would love to see him come back strong at some point. Anything that needs to be done to help the 29-year-old’s return last much, much longer than 23 minutes will get a high-five from us.

Howard, Tim
Club: Everton
Since: Summer 2006
This week: injured calf mid-week, status TBA
Status: Everton’s clear No. 1 and becoming a club legend (if not already), the only question for Howard is whether he’ll be the USMNT goalkeeper for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Hyndman, Emerson
Club: Fulham
Since: 2011
This week: Unused sub mid-week; Hosts Brighton later Monday
Status: He’ll turn 19 in April, and is already a regular on the bench for the Cottagers and occasionally getting USMNT call-ups. This spot is fine for now.

source: Getty Images
Lichaj

Lichaj, Eric
Club: Nottingham Forest
Since: Summer 2013
This week: Played 90 minutes in 3-1 home loss to Birmingham City
Status: While Forest has cooled off its promotion pace, Lichaj continues to be an important part of the team. The defender is playing 90 minutes most weeks, but has been off the USMNT roster since last November.

[ US: Onyewu extends contract at Charlton Athletic ]

Ream, Tim
Club: Bolton Wanderers
Since: January 2012
This week: Played 90 minutes in a 2-1 loss at Huddersfield Town
Status: Under contract through 2017, Ream is reliable for Bolton and has been a part of Jurgen Klinsmann’s plans at center back (sometimes to the chagrin of his club coach). Provided Bolton isn’t sent down — they are nine points above the drop — Ream’s future seems set with the Wanderers.

Spector, Jonathan
Club: Birmingham City
Since: Summer 2011
This week: DNP
Status: Out since October with a torn thigh muscle, Spector is a reliable presence for Brum when healthy. He’s back to full training and should return to the team in early 2015. Brum is 11 points clear of the Championship drop and nine points back of the final playoff spot.

Williams, Danny
Club: Reading
Since: Summer 2013
This week: Played 90 minutes in a 2-2 draw at Brighton.
Status: Plays often for his club, which is in a relegation scrap. A drop would see him in need of a new club to keep USMNT plans afloat.

Yedlin, DeAndre
Club: Tottenham Hotspur
Since: Formally joins in January
This week: DNP
Status: He’s new and shiny for Spurs, and the London club’s plans for him are relatively unknown. Mauricio Pochettino called him a young player with a lot of potential who will need time to adapt to a new club.

Also in England: Duane Holmes (Bury, on loan from Huddersfield Town); Oguchi Onyewu (Charlton Athletic); Will Packwood (Colchester United, on loan from Birmingham City); Zak Whitbread (Derby County).