Healthy after long recovery, Spector is recording playing time with West Ham.
By Robert Wagman (in Washington, D.C.)
(Thursday, March 5, 2009) -- United States defender Jonathan Spector is finally healthy and getting playing time for West Ham United. On February 21, he even found himself in the starting lineup, providing an assist for West Ham, which nonetheless dropped a 2-1 decision to Bolton Wanderers in the English Premier League
Spector returned just in time for a particularly busy time in the Premier League with nearly everyone playing twice a week.
Spector has endured a frustrating nine months, missing his opportunity to represent the U.S. in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and the opening half of the Premier League season with a hip flexor injury that would not heal.
"On a personal level, it was good to be back because it was my first game in a long," Spector told the West Ham web site. "I couldn't be happier to get my first start under my belt, but it's more important to be winning the game, but we didn't do that so it's a little bit of a bittersweet moment for me.
"All things considered, I was pretty happy with my personal fitness. I felt good throughout the match. If you put the work in, then you hope that when the match day comes, you feel good, and that was the case for me."
Spector received his start because Hammers' captain Lucas Neill was out with a suspension. The American went 85 minutes. In the 66th minute, he fed Scott Parker, who headed home the perfect cross.
On February 25, with Neill back in the lineup, Spector became West Ham's first defender off the bench in a 2-0 loss on the road to lowly Middlesbrough in an FA Cup fifth-round (Round-of-16) replay.
While West Ham (11-11-6, 39 points) is in the EPL's seventh place, Middlesbrough (6-14-8, 26) is mired in 19th place, two points from escaping the relegation zone.
Since then, Spector appeared twice as a substitute. Yesterday, Spector came on as a sweeper in the 78th minute of a 1-0 victory over Wigan Athletic in which both sides were reduced to 10 men.. On Sunday, he entered in the 83rd minute to help preserve a 1-0 home win over Manchester City.
U.S. midfielder Clint Dempsey scored an important FA Cup goal for Fulham, whch emerged victorious 2-1 over visiting, second-division Swansea City in a fifth-round replay at Craven Cottage February 24. Dempsey scored the equalizer on a 77th-minute header inside the six-yard box, setting up a winning tally by Bobby Zamora three minutes later.
The Cottagers will face Manchester United March 7 in the quarterfinals.
Dempsey went the distance in Fulham's disappointing 1-0 home setback to Hull City yesterday with the only goal coming in stoppage time.
On Saturday, Dempsey went 88 minutes in Fulham's 0-0 draw with host Arsenal at Emirates Stadium. He played a lot of defense and after not scoring, the home Gunners were booed off the field after their fourth straight EPL scoreless draw.
On February 22, Fulham defeated West Bromwich Albion 2-0 with Dempsey triggering several shots on goal, including a curving smash from 25 yards that seemed to have goalkeeper Scott Carson beaten, but smacked off the crossbar.
American keeper Brad Friedel and Aston Villa are in a bit of a tailspin, going winless (0-2-1) in their last three league outings. Yesterday, Villa fell 2-0 at Manchester City with Friedel posting three saves.
On Saturday, Villa was cruising to what appeared to be an easy two-goal victory over visiting Stoke City before Friedel was beaten late twice in a 2-2 draw. In the 87th minute, Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross drilled a point-blank header past Friedel off a James Beattie cross. In the first minute of stoppage time, Glenn Whelan put one just out of Friedel's diving reach from the edge of the penalty area.
With U.S. keeper Brad Guzan in net, Villa, which left eight starters home for a February 26 UEFA Cup third-round game at CSKA Moscow, suffered a 2-0 loss and was ousted from the competition 3-1 on aggregate.
Backing up Guzan was a third American, young Eric Lichaj, 20, a native of Downers Grove, Ill., who played at University of North Carolina.
Villa signed Lichaj about a year ago, straight from UNC and, while he got off to a slow start because of a number of minor injuries, he is now on manager Martin O'Neill's radar after becoming a starting central defender, playing in front of Guzan, on Villa's reserve team this year.
On February 21, Friedel was quite busy in the Villa net, making a half-dozen saves in a 1-0 defeat to visiting Chelsea at Villa Park. It was Chelsea's first match under interim coach Guus Hiddink.
Friedel's best save was a superb, stretching, one-handed effort to deny John Terry's hard header off a Frank Lampard corner. The setback ended Villa's 13-game unbeaten stretch in all competitions, dating back to early November.
When Friedel's playing, Guzan always serves as his reserve.
U.S. keeper Tim Howard has recorded clean sheets in his last four outings for Everton. Yesterday, he needed only a single save in a scoreless draw with host Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park.
On Saturday, Howard made five saves in Everton's 2-0 triumph over West Brom. Early in the match, he had twice stopped Marc-Antoine Fortune, first on a hard shot from the left side after Fortune found space and then a point-blank blast after Fortune went up the middle.
On February 22 in Everton's 0-0 draw at Newcastle United, Howard was not called on to make a save. Everton failed to prevail despite holding a man advantage for more than a half hour and holding a 17-5 shots advantage, 5-0 on frame.
Hahnemann still sidelined from Reading first team
In the second-tier League Championship, American keeper Marcus Hahnemann remains out of the Reading lineup since sustaining a thigh injury in mid-December. Tuesday night, Reading defeated Sheffield Wednesday 2-1, snapping a four match winless streak (0-2-2) in which Reading didn't score.
Hahnemann has gone the distance in Reading's last two reserve matches and looks ready to return, but the fine play of Adam Federici in net is likely to keep him the American on the bench for the time being.
Reading (18-8-8, 62) is in third place, two points behind Birmingham City (18-8-10) and five behind the league-leading Wolverhampton Wanderers (20-9-7), but has two games in hand on the two clubs above it. The top two are automatically promoted to the Premiership with the next four playing off for a third promotion spot.
Watford, just a few weeks ago looking like a possible candidate for relegation, continued its midseason surge with a pair of victories, but American defender and captain Jay DeMerit, who just returned from a thigh injury that kept him sidelined for more than a month and a half, limped off in the 54th minute of the very physical 2-0 triumph over Crystal Palace on Saturday.
Watford not re-injure his thigh, as feared, but rather suffered a calf strain and he was held out of a 2-1 loss to Plymouth Argyle Tuesday for precautionary reasons. On February 21, DeMerit went the distance in a 2-0 decision at Blackpool.
U.S. striker Eddie Johnson finally received some substantial playing time for Cardiff City. After a short nine-minute appearance in a 1-0 loss Saturday to Southampton, where he had a good try in stoppage time but saw his shot go over the bar, Johnson played 90 minutes Tuesday in a 3-0 decision over Barnsley. Although he did not score, Johnson was involved in all three goals and was declared "Man of the Match."
On February 22, Johnson did not dress in a 2-2 tie at Wolverhampton.
American defender Frank Simek was on the bench for Sheffield Wednesday's 4-2 win over Burnley Saturday, but saw no minutes last night in a 2-1 loss to Reading..
In the third-division League One, newly-signed young American forward Mike Grella was on the substitute's bench for Leeds United's 3-2 triumph over Scunthorpe. Last week, he made a brief appearance in stoppage time for Leeds in a 2-0 decision over Cheltenham.
Edu starts for Rangers
In Scotland, U.S. midfielder Maurice Edu is seeing time with the Glasgow Rangers' first team. Last night, he started and went 64 minutes for Rangers, who were shocked 1-0 by Inverness on a goal in the dying seconds of stoppage time.
On Saturday, Edu received his first league start of the season and went the distance in a 1-0 road victory at tiny Hamilton Academical. He wasn't scheduled for the start; but Pedro Mendes was injured in warm-ups.
In the previous week, Edu watched from the bench as Rangers downed Kilmarnock 3-1.
Edu's U.S. teammate, midfielder DaMarcus Beasley was not seriously injured after a hard tackle 10 days ago in a Scottish Cup match, but was sufficiently black and blue to keep him from dressing for the first two of those league matches. He was back on the bench for the Inverness match, but did not play.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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