Jonathan Spector is hoping to take another step forward on Tuesday night as he looks to return to the West Ham United first-team picture before the end of the year.
The 22-year-old international defender was one of a crop of youngsters who burst through last season to show their first-team worth before being stopped in his tracks by a hip injury in the final month of the campaign. After a summer of hard work back home in the United States, followed by an intensive rehabilitation period at Chadwell Heath, Spector made his long-awaited playing return last Thursday.
Although just a behind-closed-doors friendly at a freezing Hornchurch FC, the match was a special one for Spector, who headed his side on their way to a 3-2 victory against a Major League Soccer select side. Spector had been given the skipper's armband for the meeting with his compatriots - made up of some of the US's top young players - by reserve-team coach Alex Dyer.
"It was my first time captaining a West Ham side so it was a nice honour, especially against an American side," said Spector, before adding with a smile: "I think Alex Dyer just needed a translator actually so that's why he chose me … but it was definitely nice to have that vote of confidence and I was just excited about playing more than anything else."
Spector played in central defence and looked physically ready for the rigours of the Premier League, although admitted he still needed to be a bit sharper. "I need at least one more reserve game before I feel fit enough to be in with the first team but I will certainly be pushing myself to be back as soon as possible," he explained. That game could come on Tuesday when the reserves welcome Chelsea to Bishop's Stortford.
As was the case last week, Gianfranco Zola could well be watching on and Spector has relished the chance of late to show his manager the potential and promise first identified by Sir Alex Ferguson when he was a 17-year-old at Manchester United. "I think the manager has only seen me in training up to now so it was nice to do that and show him a little of what I can do.
"I am certainly happy to be back after being out for such an extended period of time and we got the result as well with a 3-2 victory. It was nice to score. That doesn't happen too often either. It was great to get a goal but more importantly I am just happy to be back playing. I really enjoyed it."