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Q & A with U.S. Soccer player Jonathan Spector

For my first blog entry I am re-printing an interview I did with U.S. National Soccer Team defender Jonathan Spector for my day job as a sports reporter for Pioneer Press newspapers in the suburbs. ** Arlington Heights native Jonathan Spector is about to begin the most important few weeks of his soccer life. The former St. Viator High Schooler is a right/left back on the U.S. National Soccer Team, and he could be on the field on June 12 when the Yanks face England in their 2010 World Cup Group C opener in Rustenburg, South Africa. The 24-year-old Spector started every game for the U.S. during its improbable run to the Confederations Cup final last summer, which included an upset over top-ranked Spain. The U.S. ultimately lost the final of that competition 3-2 to Brazil after leading 2-0. After helping his club team, London's West Ham United, narrowly avoid relegation to the lower division, Spector returned home to the Chicagoland area briefly last month where he spoke about the World Cup.

United States
DS: What are your emotions ahead of the tournament in South Africa? JS: I'm excited and looking forward to the opportunity ahead of me. I had some disappointment missing the 2006 World Cup and the 2008 Olympics because of injury. So, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that for this one I'll be injury free." DS: What are the expectations inside the U.S. camp? JS: The main objective is to get out of the group (with England, Slovenia, Algeria, where the top two advance). We were a little fortunate with the draw, and once you get out, it is single elimination from there and anything is possible. I think after beating Spain (last year) we know we can compete with the best teams on any given day." DS: The England game is getting a lot of attention, but win, lose or draw, it's just one of three important games, right? JS: The media has been focusing on that game and I certainly can understand that. The other games are just as important, but you want to get off to a good start. It's important to get a result, win or draw, and show you can compete with one of the favorites in the opening game. It's always a big benefit to get off to a good start." DS: You are one of eight players on the U.S. team who played in the English Premier League last season. That must give you a certain level of comfort against England and other top-level teams? JS: Yes, it's going to be comfortable and there is no intimidation. But something that we've been able to exploit has been teams underestimating us, and I'm not entirely sure that will be the case this time around. A lot of our guys regularly play against the best players in the world, in the best leagues in the world. There is a correlation between that and the success the national team has had. DS: Last June, you were in South Africa for the Confederations Cup. How much do you think that experience will help in your preparation for the World Cup? JS: I think as a team in general it's a big advantage over other teams who are there for the first time and will have to acclimatize and get used to the altitude. We have experienced that and the atmosphere, we've played in front of the crowds and know what to expect because fields are different everywhere you go. We'll try to use that advantage to the best of our ability. But what it comes down to is taking care of business. That is the most important thing. Last summer, we showed we could compete with the best in the world by beating Spain and going down to the wire with Brazil. But that game left a bitter taste and it's not something we want to repeat. That gives us that incentive and the drive. DS: While the midfield and goaltending seem to be strengths, injuries have led to some questions being asked about the strikers and the defense on this U.S. team? Can this team score goals? Defend? JS: Recently, (our ability to score) has been about how quickly we can counterattack. We've defended well as a group for long periods, and when we get the ball back we've been successful going forward quickly, which is one of our strengths. We know that when we play teams like England, Brazil and Spain, they will be keeping the ball for vast amounts of time. The question is can we defend well and concentrate on our ability to go forward quickly? DS: What are this team's other strengths? JS: We are a tight group. I think that's one of our strengths. We're tight-knit and when we come back together for training (after being with our club teams), we pick up right where we left off. We may be playing against better players individually. But I think the U.S has been better as a team. Typically, it's the better team that wins, not the team with one individual superstar.

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