http://www.suntimes.com/output/sports/cst-spt-spector21.html From boy to Man Utd July 21, 2004 BY JOE TROST Advertisement For a moment back in May, Jonathan Spector was a normal teenager again. On that Sunday afternoon in Arlington Heights, the 18-year-old graduated from St. Viator High School with his classmates. While most of his friends were thinking about what they were going to do over the summer, Spector sat back and enjoyed the moment. ''I have a lot of great friends that I hadn't seen in a while, and it was great to be able to be with all of them again,'' Spector said. ''But when I was sitting at graduation, it really hit me as to how our lives were going in different directions.'' Spector, whose grandfather was an original member of the Boston Celtics in 1946, will once again be reunited with most of his friends this week. This time, however, they'll be watching him from the stands at Soldier Field when Manchester United takes on Bayern Munich in an exhibition match at 3 p.m. Sunday. ''I know how unique of a situation I'm in playing for Man Utd,'' Spector said. ''I'm playing for the New York Yankees of soccer.'' Chicago is the first stop on a three-city tour for Manchester United, which played on American soil for the time since 1982 in 2003. The club, which claims a world-wide fan base of 53 million, played in front of overflow crowds during its four-city tour a year ago. They also will play exhibition matches in Philadelphia and New York next week. ''I was excited when they told me I was making the trip with the first team to the U.S.,'' Spector said. ''I was in the cafeteria eating lunch after training when they informed me. It really happened so fast, but it's a moment I'll never forget.'' The 6-foot, 180-pound defender actually was discovered accidentally by a Manchester United scout in May 2002. His life changed forever in a mere 90 minutes. Spector, who enrolled at the U.S. Soccer residency program in Bradenton, Fla., after his sophomore season at St. Viator, was in Northern Ireland with the under-17 U.S. national team. With a couple of players nursing injuries, head coach John Ellinger wanted to solidify his defense. So he moved Spector, who was sitting on the bench at the time, from the front line to the back. In his first game as a central defender, the United States defeated Wales 2-1. Spector also started the next game against Austria in the back, and the United States won again 1-0. A Man Utd scout was in the stands that day to watch a forward from Austria, who just happened to be the same player Spector marked that afternoon. The former forward shut him down and caught the scout's attention. ''It's funny the way things work out sometimes,'' Spector said. ''There was a time when I thought I was going to go down to the residency program, then go back to St. Viator for my senior year. But instead of being at Viator, I was over in England playing for Manchester United.'' Four months after playing his first game as a central defender, he was offered a four-year contract after a weeklong tryout in England. ''One injury to a defender and Jonathan's life changed forever,'' said St. Viator soccer coach Mike Taylor, who brought Spector up to the varsity as a freshman. ''How amazing is that? It really is true when people talk about being in the right place at the right time. And the thing about Jonathan is that he is not only gifted physically, but mentally, too.'' Spector has wasted little time making a name for himself. The club recently named him the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year. ''People ask me to pick my best experience so far, but sometimes it's difficult to do that,'' Spector said. ''I've had a number of good experiences while being here, including traveling with the first team for the first time for a Carling Cup match against West Bromwich in December. ''I was on the bench for a first-team game against Blackburn. But being selected as the Young Player of the Year is something I'll never forget, too. It was great to be acknowledged in front of 60,000 spectators at Old Trafford before the game against Chelsea this year.'' Spector added that it wasn't hard to gain the respect of the first team, even though he was an American player. ''Honestly, it really didn't take long to gain the respect of the players and coaches,'' said Spector, who is one of three Americans in the club. ''The club is culturally diverse, and it doesn't matter where you are from as long as you are a good player. ''Being an American did not affect that, especially because America is a growing soccer nation with recent success on the international stage.'' Since signing with the club, Spector has resided with Terry and Janet Holden, who live 20 minutes outside the city. Spector is one of three athletes living with the Holdens. ''I'll move out on my own sometime soon, but I like my situation right now,'' said Spector, who is taking correspondence classes at Indiana University. ''It is difficult having a normal life, but when I have some extra time, I do all the things a normal teenager would do. Most of the time when I'm not training, I'm at home resting. ''But having a chance to live in a different country has been amazing. It is a unique experience that not many people my age have, and it has been an enjoyable one so far.'' While Spector is counting the days until he runs through the tunnel in Soldier Field, he isn't the only one. ''All of the kids who played with Jonathan are hunting for tickets right now,'' Taylor said. ''They want to go see him out there because they want to see the dream become reality. When Jonathan takes the field, it will be as if the dream will become reality not just for Jonathan but for so many other St. Viator soccer players.''