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Spector, Clark benefiting from changes

Jonathan Spector Ricardo Clark PI
Spector and Clark have worked their ways back into their respective club's lineups.
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Ives Galarcep

Ives Galarcep is a 14-year veteran of the American soccer beat. He created and operates the popular American soccer blog, Soccer By Ives, which was voted Best American Soccer Blog by US Soccer in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Ives was also voted Best Football Writer by SoccerLens in 2010. 
 

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Just a month ago, Ricardo Clark and Jonathan Spector looked helplessly glued to the benches of their respective European clubs and it wasn’t clear when either would start playing again.

A month, and some position changes later, both are thriving and showing signs of getting back to their best.

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Spector traded in his full back role at West Ham United for a central midfield position and the results have been instantaneous. He scored two goals against Manchester United in the Carling Cup in his first match there, and has enjoyed solid outings every time he has played there since. He most recently added his first league goal last weekend in West Ham’s 2-2 draw with Everton.

Spector’s recent run of form hasn’t helped West Ham avoid the Premier League basement, but it certainly has revived a career that had seemed to stall in the second of 2010. After failing to make an appearance in the World Cup (he was one of two U.S. national team players to do so), Spector returned to West Ham with no starting role and dim prospects of breaking through.

It took some injuries and some desperation from manager Avram Grant to give Spector a chance and he has made the most of it.

If there’s an American in Europe who endured a worse second half of 2010 than Spector, it was Clark, who’s lasting memory among American soccer fans was his forgettable showing and early exit from the U.S. national team’s World Cup loss to Ghana. Labeled the scapegoat for that loss, Clark proceeded to disappear from public view by languishing on the bench for Eintracht Frankfurt.

Clark managed just 16 minutes of playing time for the German club through the first four months of the season, but grabbed a lifeline in late December when manager Michael Skibbe turned to him to try and help a struggling defense. Clark’s first start was a stellar 90-minute performance that helped Eintracht Frankfurt defeat first-place Borussia Dortmund, snapping Dortmund’s 15-match unbeaten streak just before the new year.

Clark was back in the lineup for Frankfurt again last weekend, only in central defense, a position American fans aren’t used to seeing him play. Facing Hamburg, and spending much of the game matched up against star Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy, Clark played like central defense was his natural position, drawing praise from Skibbe despite Frankfurt losing 1-0.

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Do these impressive performances mean Spector and Clark have found new permanent homes on the field? It’s too early to tell, but at the very least the success at new positions has given both players new hope of improving their places with their clubs.

What the recent position changes have also done is leave American fans wondering whether Spector and Clark could field their new positions for the U.S. national team. Spector’s strong form in central midfield is surprising, particularly the attacking qualities he has flashed, but given the fact that central midfield is far and away the deepest position in the U.S. national team pool, it seems pretty unlikely that Spector will ever be called on to play there for the United States.

Clark’s central defense experiment is a different story altogether. There isn’t nearly as much depth at center back, and with the overload of central midfielders, Clark might actually be better served if his Eintracht Frankfurt shift to central defense becomes permanent. He boasts the athleticism, strength and speed to be an effective center back, and his passing out of the back would be a welcome asset.

Before we get that far ahead, the coming weeks and months will tell us whether Spector and Clark get a real chance to develop into new positions, or if they are destined to return to their old positions and their familiar spots on the bench.

If Clark and Spector keep up their recent form, both players should continue to see significant playing time, and that could ultimately lead to U.S. national team head coach Bob Bradley having some unexpected options as we draw closer to this summer’s Gold Cup.

Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the U.S. national team and Major League Soccer.

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