Spector savors another win over United
Saying Jonathan Spector had an eventful game against high-flying Manchester United in the Premier League on Saturday would be a bit of an understatement. The 21-year-old played three positions -- John O'Shea would be proud -- and gave away a penalty in the middle of the second half.
On the pitch from start to finish, he witnessed teammates Anton Ferdinand and Matthew Upson score in the final 13 minutes to give West Ham a 2-1 win in London that helped knock United off the top spot.
Oh, and did we mention Spector's career in England began with the Red Devils?
"It's unbelievable, actually," the Illinois native said. "Since I've left the club, I've beaten them every time. No draws, no losses. Maybe I'm the good luck charm. Anytime you beat Manchester United, especially when they're in the kind of form that they are, playing great football, it's a massive result.''
Spector began in his preferred position of central defense alongside Upson, then was forced to move to central midfield early in the second half when the oft-injured Scott Parker hurt his knee to add to the Hammers' injury woes. With the home team still trying to reverse a 1-0 deficit, he was shifted to left back when manager Alan Curbishley brought on a second striker, Dean Ashton, with 20 minutes remaining.
Two minutes earlier, United midfielder Cristiano Ronaldo, who opened the scoring in the first half with a header that gave him a whopping 16 goals in his past 14 outings, sent his penalty kick wide. Spector was called for a hand ball by referee Mike Dean when his attempted clearance skimmed off his head and struck an outstretched arm.
"I certainly can understand why the referee gave it," Spector said. "I was a bit unlucky, but fortunately Ronaldo missed it. Everyone around the ground, especially myself, had a huge amount of relief at that point."
As is often the case when one team misses a penalty, the other took advantage. Ferdinand headed the ball past keeper Tomasz Kuszczak from a corner kick in the 77th minute, and Upson clinched the victory with a header from another set piece, a free kick five minutes later.
West Ham, which downed United 1-0 twice last season as it narrowly avoided relegation, limited Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez -- making his return to Upton Park -- Ryan Giggs et al to three shots on target.
It was the club's first home win in more than two months.
"We didn't give them too many opportunities before or after the goal, and that was kind of the main thing," Spector said. "We didn't give them time on the ball and possession, and from that, we were able to get our passing going and get in behind them a few times. It was important for us to give the fans a bit of a lift."
Spector -- watched by his parents and brother, who were in London over the festive period -- made his third straight start and 14th appearance of the season. His first Premier League goal came in a 5-0 drubbing of Derby early in November.
He is on track to surpass the 28 appearances he registered in last year's campaign and the 24 the season before while on loan at Charlton under Curbishley. Although he excelled with youth teams and was a regular in the reserve squad, Spector played with United's first team only eight times in two years.
And now for a roundup of how the other Americans in the EPL have fared recently:
So much for Reading's defensive revival. After giving up five goals while going unbeaten in five games, the Royals and keeper Marcus Hahnemann were on the receiving end of another away drubbing, this time at Tottenham. Dimitar Berbatov scored four times as Tottenham won 6-4, exactly three months after Reading lost 7-4 at Portsmouth, the highest scoring game in Premier League history.
Unlike in that encounter, the Seattle native didn't have much chance on any of the goals and saved a Robbie Keane penalty at 4-4. Unfortunately for him, Jermain Defoe, who appeared to be illegally inside the box as Keane struck the penalty, converted the rebound. Philadelphia's Bobby Convey played 84 minutes for Reading, which actually led three times.
It wasn't a good day for Everton's New Jersey keeper, Tim Howard, either. He allowed four goals for the first time this season -- all in the second half -- in a 4-1 loss to Arsenal. Everton outplayed the Gunners in the first half, but the turning point came when the visitors scored 90 seconds after the interval.
Two of the goals came from long balls -- yes, that's Arsenal we're talking about -- with Emmanuel Adebayor's effort the result of comical defending. Confusion between Howard and Joseph Yobo allowed Adebayor to steal the ball and score into an empty net to make it 3-1 in the 78th minute. Both teams finished with 10 men.
A third U.S. goalie, Blackburn's Brad Friedel, had better luck. Friedel stopped a Steve Howard penalty in the 38th minute with the Rovers already trailing last-place Derby 1-0 on Sunday, and it proved vital. In-form striker Roque Santa Cruz tied it a minute later, and David Bentley scored before the half ended to give Blackburn its first win in six.
Friedel's compatriot, Eddie Lewis, started for Derby, with winger and former UCLA standout Benny Feilhaber playing the entire second half for the second straight match.
California's Carlos Bocanegra scored his first goal of the season -- he hit the target five times in 2006-07 -- as Fulham rebounded from a 5-1 thrashing at Tottenham to earn a 1-1 tie at Birmingham. Texan Clint Dempsey also played 90 minutes for the Cottagers as new manager Roy Hodgson watched from the stands. Fulham remains in the relegation zone, and its cause was not helped by a 2-1 loss on New Year's Day to West London rival Chelsea. Both Americans were victimized on Chelsea's goals: Salomon Kalou beating Bocanegra to the ball to head home Chelsea's equalizer after Fulham took the lead, and Dempsey being whistled for the go-ahead penalty after bringing down Michael Ballack in the box.
Ravi Ubha is a London-based freelance journalist covering Americans abroad for ESPNsoccernet.