March 31, 2017 USL Toronto FC II--March Preview: Toronto FC II at Tampa Bay Rowdies (from

TFC II’s Spencer Rewarded for Persistence
By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 03/31/17, 4:59PM EDT 

After two years lost to injury, former U.S. U20 is ready to unleash his potential

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Ben Spencer walked off the field after Toronto FC’s final preseason 
contest at the 2017 Rowdies Suncoast Invitational, a slight sweat on his brow after his 
second-half stint in the Florida sunshine.

As the regular season approached, the U.S. U23 international was back where he had hoped to be.

“It’s very rewarding, and has been the culmination of a lot of hard work to get to this point,” 
Spencer in February following a game against the Chicago Fire at Al Lang Stadium. “Just to be back 
on the field and playing and feeling good, it’s a great feeling.”

It was a feeling Spencer hadn’t had consistently in a very long time. Considered a bright 
prospect in his age-group alongside the likes of fellow U.S. youth internationals Kellyn Acosta, 
Paul Arriola and Cameron Carter-Vickers when he turned professional in December of 2012 
with Norwegian club Molde, he was well on the way to success.

Then the injuries started to hit. A torn meniscus in his right knee sidelined him for two months 
in 2014, and then flared up again after he returned to action. He suffered a sprained medial 
collateral ligament competing for the U.S. at the CONCACAF U20 Championship in 2015, which 
saw his journey with Molde come to an end.

By then, though, the man who had brought him to Norway had a new position. Greg Vanney had 
been appointed Head Coach at Toronto FC, and he brought Spencer in on loan. As Spencer tried 
to get acclimated to his new surroundings, though, the right knee problems persisted, leaving 
him unable to get into action regularly.

“The problem was every time we put him out on the field, his knee just kept swelling up,” 
said Vanney. “It wasn’t painful, but it just kept swelling up, and so at that point we had 
to figure out what was going on.”

Finally, a visit to Chicago orthopedic surgeon Brian Cole proved the turning point. Diagnosing 
Spencer with a rare condition that had seen his meniscus become so worn that a hole had emerged, 
with the swelling arising as a result, major surgery was performed that replaced the knee’s 
cartilage, and realigned Spencer’s femur to correct the imbalance in the weight load on the 
knee itself.

The surgery in September of 2015 proved a success, but that was only part of the process. 
A year later, after going through extensive rehab, Spencer was signed to Toronto FC II and 
finally took to the field again, making appearances against Orlando City B and the 
Rochester Rhinos late in the 2016 USL regular season.

The challenge of battling through to get back on the field was tough for the 21-year-old.

“The mental aspect [was tough], even more so than the physical aspect,” Spencer said. 
“Just being in the gym every single day and watching your team come in and go out to training, 
and have to watch all the matches from the stands and sort of be held out from what you want 
to do most. That’s mentally really, really difficult.”

A fully-fit Spencer certainly appeared back to his best on Saturday night as he went the full 
90 minutes for Toronto FC II in its season-opening victory against Phoenix Rising FC, 
and recorded the assist on Ryan Telfer’s goal in the eighth minute. Spencer completed 
79 percent of his passes against Rising FC, including 75 percent in Phoenix’s half, a positive 
sign as the side prepares to visit the Tampa Bay Rowdies this weekend.

With his road to recovery now appearing complete, Spencer could an intriguing attacking 
option for Toronto FC later this season as the defending MLS Eastern Conference champion 
looks to go one step further in the 2017 season. But Vanney won’t rush the process for 
Spencer, who is currently under contract to TFC II, as the club looks to tap into the 
potential Spencer showed early in his career.

“That’s the hope, isn’t it? Whenever somebody’s been out for two years, though, it doesn’t 
happen overnight,” said Vanney. “For us, it’s to make sure we’re putting the right challenges 
in front of him, being patient with him, him being patient with himself. He’s very eager 
to want to be perfect about everything that he does, but it’s about everybody taking the 
right steps and the right approach and understanding that he’s going to get there. It’s going 
to be continuous work, but it’s going to be smart work.”

With a fresh start ahead of him, though, Spencer is more than ready to put the past away 
and focus on a bright future, and reward Vanney’s faith in him.

“That’s what if feels like,” Spencer said. “Greg has always been a believer in my game 
and my ability, and I’m very grateful for every opportunity that I’ve received, but nothing’s 
given and it’s still a lot of hard work to earn every minute on the field and every 
opportunity that I get. I’m grateful, and now that I’m healthy, the real work starts 
to earn minutes on the field.”

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