Here’s one thing you should know about Revolution II left back Ryan Spaulding: he’s incredibly versatile. It’s a trait that, in part, propelled him into team sheets up and down the East Coast and across the Atlantic, whether that be for UNC Charlotte, his alma mater; Stade Briochin, a professional team in France’s Championnat National 2; North Carolina FC, in the USL Championship; or Revolution II, in USL League One.
In his years with UNC Charlotte and Stade Briochin, Spaulding was a top candidate at left wing, right wing, and attacking midfield. In these attacking positions, Ryan excelled at beating men off the dribble and creating chances in the box, whether that be a cross or a finish. He was a true playmaker, backed by speed and technique. However, despite his attacking prowess, he could defend, too; in fact, attention to defense was deeply ingrained in Ryan’s game at every stop.
“At Charlotte, we were very defense-oriented even with the attacking players we had, so being there I developed a defensive tenacity and a mindset,” he said in a phone interview with The Bent Musket. “Then when I went over to France, I had that mentality - I knew I was good enough to go with them attacking wise but I also had trust in myself and I knew that coaches could trust me to play defense also.”
After spending a year in northwest France, Spaulding returned to his roots in North Carolina, playing two months with North Carolina FC in the fall of 2019. There, he studied under assistant manager Clint Peay, a former defender for D.C. United. On the training ground in Cary, Spaulding’s versatility was on full display.
“I ended up signing with [North Carolina FC] for the last 2 months of the season, and when I was there I was flirting around position wise - they had some good wingers so they didn’t really know where to put me. And I think it was [Clint’s] idea to try me out at outside back.”
Spaulding impressed during his stint on the back line, but only had two months to train before a bow was tied on the USL Championship season. By late fall, Spaulding was in search of a new home.
The converted left back wasn’t the only member of North Carolina FC to leave the club in the offseason; assistant coach Clint Peay also had his sights on a transfer. Travel up the East Coast to Foxboro, where New England Revolution manager Bruce Arena was aiding a search to find the first coach of Revolution II, an inaugural side slated to play in the USL League One the ensuing year.
For Bruce Arena, the idle Peay was no foreign name; Arena coached the Maryland native at the University of Virginia and also chose him to feature for the 1996 U.S. Olympic team. It was this rapport that undergirded The Kraft Group’s decision to hire Peay, who took over the reins of a side devoid of players.
In search of talent to fill the roster, Peay hosted a combine in January, inviting Spaulding. There, Peay’s former player slotted in at left back and registered an impressive shift - right in front of the man who initially sparked the positional transition.
“I thought I did pretty well,” Spaulding recalled. “Coaches thought I did well, and I guess just from there the mentality was that I was going to be a left back which I was very open to.”
Peay offered Spaulding a contract with his new team, which he signed on January 16, just over two months before the USL League One season was set to begin. It was a good match, with Peay craving defenders who could use their feet, pace, and attacking ability to break lines.
“I feel like my skill set fits it pretty well with how Clint wants us to play as a team,” Spaulding noted. “I think the modern outside back has to be pretty comfortable with going forward - you see that with Trent Alexander, with Alphonso Davies at Bayern Munchen - that’s just what the game is needing from the outside back at the moment.”
While he trained as a left back, Spaulding saw time all over the pitch during preseason. In just four games, he earned minutes at midfield, left back, and winger. He even scored the game winning goal in a 1-0 triumph over Hartford Athletic.
After months of delays, Spaulding and his teammates finally opened up their USL League One campaign on July 25, where they fought to a 0-0 draw against Union Omaha. Spaulding was a spark in an otherwise dull game, exhibiting offensive potency that the other wing backs failed to match. In the second half, for example, Spaulding picked up the ball on a short corner, beat a man inside the box, and delivered an inch-perfect cross to the back post. He later spearheaded a piercing drive down the wing, shaking off a defender with ease.
Within a year, the North Carolina native transitioned from a winger in France to a wing back in Foxboro; if anything, it’s a testament to his versatility and perseverance. It could continue to come in handy, with Ryan unwilling to rule out an appearance at wing this season.
“Obviously if something happens to a winger and I need to go fill that position, I feel like there’s a chance that could happen,” he explained. “But I think as a whole they really want me to develop as a left back and that’s what it seems like the guys at the Revs organization want from me.”
Spaulding and his teammates take the field next on Friday, August 7, against Orlando City B. Fans can expect his combination of offensive potency and defensive tenacity to be on full display once again.
“The main goal is to get up to the first team. That’s why we’re here playing for this second team - continue to work, develop and just hopefully get that chance to move up.”