"I'm not 100 percent sure too much has really changed in terms of the type of player I am or the mentality," said Spector on ussoccer.com. "But being out for such a length of time definitely makes me appreciate more the opportunity to play every day."
He's played mostly on the back line since joining Manchester United as an 18-year-old in 2004, going to Charlton on loan, and transferring to his current club, West Ham United in June, 2006. A shoulder injury ruled him out of the 2006 World Cup, and a torn labrum sidelined him until December.
"For me it was slightly more complicated because the way the labrum was torn was related to how the hip bone was formed," said Spector of his long layoff. "I had a bone spur digging into the labrum, which was what tore it, so the procedure was to repair the labrum and then shave the bone down so that it wouldn't recur.
"It seems like it's more and more common in soccer players but I think it's probably always been there. It's just that the procedure to deal with it is relatively new and has improved quite a bit, so I was kind of fortunate in that there's a new way of dealing with it, and the rehabilitation was second to none, and I feel great now coming back from that injury."
He started for the Americans in the 2007 Gold Cup final win against Mexico, but had to come off in the 26th minute after suffering a concussion in a fierce collision with Andres Guardado. Before departing, he hit a cross from his right-back position that yielded a foul on Brian Chingand a U.S. penalty kick that was converted by Landon Donovanfor the first goal in the 2-1 victory.
The USA is fairly deep at right back, with Frankie Hejduk having deputized for Steve Cherundolo in the first two Hexagonal qualifiers. Left back, though, is unsettled; Heath Pearce suffered through a rough outing in the 2-2 tie in San Salvador Saturday and Bradley has brought in Jonathan Bornstein of Chivas USA for the home match against Trinidad & Tobago Wednesday in Nashville.
Spector has occasionally played left back for the USA and has a mild preference as to which is his best position. "I've always felt I was best suited to playing as a central defender but most of the opportunities I've had have arisen as a right back, " he says. "It seems I've been gravitating toward that position.
"It's a difficult question to answer because wherever there's an opportunity to play, I'm happy to play there. I've always wanted to play in the middle but I'm more than happy at right back. Or left back. I've even played a couple of times this season as a right midfielder for my club team."
And at least once while with Charlton he came as a late sub and played up front to bring his size (6-feet, 180 pounds) and heading ability into the attack.
No matter how much he plays in the next three qualifiers - after T&T, in early June the USA plays Costa Rica away and Honduras at home (Soldier Field, Chicago) near his home - if healthy he'll be called for service either for the Confederations Cup or Gold Cup. His future with West Ham seems relatively secure, as the club has signed him to a new contract despite his long recovery from injury.
"We had a brief contract negotiation at the end of the season before the injury," he says. "I hadn't signed anything, we had an agreement in principle. The injury diagnosis came shortly after we had agreed, and the club said, 'As soon as you come back and are training with the team, it will go into effect retroactively.'
"I was really appreciative of how the club dealt with it. Obviously they could have gone a completely different route. They were really good to me in the way they handled the situation and it was a nice vote of confidence as well. I had been out so long and they had the faith in me to come back and be a contributing member of the team."
Bradley shares that opinion of a player he's known since Spector played youth soccer while growing up in Arlington Heights, Ill. During his tenure as head coach of the Chicago Fire, Bradley occasionally let Spector and a few other young players, including his son, Michael, train with the pro team.
"I think he's one of those guys who from a young age knew what it was like to be a pro, because he was around guys from the Fire," says Bob Bradley. "Like Michael, like Mike Magee, they had an idea of the commitment and sacrifices you have to make to be successful."
Since being injured in the Gold Cup final, he's made only three appearances, all as a sub, for the USA Watching from the bench is hard enough; he can barely endure watching from afar.
"To be honest, it was hard to watch them, to not be a part of it," he says. "But I definitely kept up with how the team was doing and talked to a couple of the players. I missed out on the Olympics, too, and that was hard. Maybe I'd watched the first half but after that I couldn't watch any more.
"When something like that's taken away from you, you miss it a great deal, so now I just have a greater appreciation for what I'm able to do day-in, and day-out."