Orlando City’s defense was poised to have the best season in the Lions’ MLS history before the 2018 season. Jonathan Spector was finally healthy and former Bundesliga center back Lamine Sané was coming in to bolster the back line alongside him. On the outside, Scott Sutter’s 2017 performances showed he was an elite MLS right back. Mohamed El-Munir was an unheard of left back, but expectations were that the Libyan would start and provide quality attacking play. Additionally, he was to be an upgrade to Donny Toia’s lack of pace.
Of course, none of that panned out as expected and Orlando City finished the season with the worst statistical defense in MLS history. Spector started the year healthy, but he lasted two and a half games before getting injured. Spector collided with Maxime Chanot in the 16th minute in Orlando’s 2-0 loss to New York City FC. The captain stayed on the field but did not return in the second half. That was the first of multiple injuries. He suffered a second concussion in rapid succession after his return, which kept him out an extended period. After a short return, he suffered a hamstring injury. Finally, he finished the year with a back problem.
When healthy, Spector was a solid choice for his coaches. That did not happen enough and the 32-year-old looks to be close to the end of his career if this trend continues.
Spector started four of Orlando’s first five games of the season but then sat out the next nine. He started the next four games, got injured in the Lions’ 4-1 loss to Los Angeles FC in July, and then missed the following six matches. The former Birmingham City defender then made his longest run of games of the season. He started the next five, three at left back, from Aug. 24 to Sep. 22. Spector then got hurt again and did not return.
He played in 13 MLS matches and two in the U.S. Open Cup. His 15 games are well below his 2017 total of 26. When Spector was in, he played well. He finished with 1.7 tackles, 1.1 interceptions, 3.1 clearances, and 0.6 blocks all per game, according to WhoScored. He passed at an 81.5% rate.
He didn’t score but he did provide one assist on the year. Spector and Justin Meram combined for fantastic ball movement before the captain put a low pass into the middle for Stefano Pinho. The Brazilian passed it into the back of the net for his first MLS goal and leveled it for the Lions in the 93rd minute of a season-opening, 10-man draw.
Spector had two games that stood out in 2018 — the season opener against D.C. United and the Houston Dynamo 0-0 draw on Sept. 22. Both games ended as draws. Because Spector had an assist in the opener, that is enough to edge out for his best game. The Lions were also down a man for the majority of the match.
He finished the game with two tackles, no interceptions, and three clearances. In the 20th minute, Joe Bendik made a penalty kick save. The ball hit the crossbar and the inside post and bounced around in front of the goal. Spector made a diving header to prevent what would have been a certain Ulises Segura goal.
As mentioned above, his assist in the 93rd minute was due to a perfect combination from Spector and Meram. Meram arguably did the hardest part having to hold off Chris Durkin and play a perfect through ball between four defenders. Yet, the center back did well to get that far forward and stay calm inside the 18. Orlando City could have used that off-the-ball movement and pass the rest of the season.
2018 Final Grade
The Mane Land Staff gave Spector a composite grade of 6 for his performances this season. He finished with a 7.5 in 2017 and dropped considerably this year. His only performances that were poor were when the Lions got blown out, such as the 4-0 thrashings against Chicago and Atlanta. When healthy, Spector is a definite starter for this team. The problem is that if the stipulation of “when healthy” needs to be in place, there are more significant issues at hand.
Spector’s ability to defend is one of the top on the team, and his passing rating is good for a center back. He is a little slow, which could be an issue in James O’Connor’s system (see below), but he is good with the ball at his feet and he was one of the better defenders on a weak defensive team.
Orlando City broke the MLS record for most goals allowed in a single season. There are going to be personnel changes this off-season. Many of those changes will likely happen on the back line. There is a chance that Spector does not return in 2019, as his contract is set to expire per Transfermarkt. Spector is good with his feet and can play many defensive positions, including center back, left back, and defensive midfield.
His captaincy is also in jeopardy. After Orlando City had locker room issues in 2018, who will step up is in question. Sacha Kljestan often wore the armband in Spector’s absences.
If he does return, how much playing time Spector gets will depend on who is brought in. With the current squad, he is a definite starter when he is healthy. As there will be many new faces brought in, Spector could be fighting for playing time. However, his current salary is too high for a borderline starter, so the club must be sure he’s going to start (and stay healthy) to invest heavily in Spector again.