Jermaine Jones and the intangibles of influencing matches
This is going to be about Jermaine Jones and about those rare figures in sports who unfold into something greater than the sum of their skillful parts. But to get there, we first have to talk about Jurgen Klinsmann.
If you are a U.S. national team supporter, you are or at some point have been upset with Klinsmann; partly for his position, and partly for his tinkering methodology. He’s just a magnet for criticism that way.
At one point, much of the level 11 consternation was about Jones, the muscled-up Bundesliga man first capped in late 2010. We could charitably call his initial couple of years with the national team a mixed bag.
Jones tended to be careless in possession. He could definitely be careless with positioning. Just ask Michael Bradley, the frequent hole-plugger in the U.S. midfield when Jones went scampering about. Beyond all that, Jones was a yellow card waiting to happen.
Klinsmann saw all that, too. But he saw something the rest of us did not. The boss was witness to Jones’ impossible-to-quantify effect on team psychology. Klinsmann accepted Jones’ deficiencies because, in short, he was the guy you wanted with you while walking dark, lonely streets.
Jones was fearless, simply impossible to intimidate. Klinsmann was sure that was infectious in meaningful ways: in daily interactions at the team hotel; while boarding the bus on game day; in the locker room; walking onto the field. He was certain that Jones’ mere presence, his icy cool swagger, was a direct line to better results.
Well, whatever issues you may have with Klinsmann, you must concede this: The U.S. head coach nailed this one. Jones has proven so.
Winning over supporters, internationally and in league play
Jones is back on the field now, this time for the Colorado Rapids, having won over a lot of U.S. fans at the 2014 World Cup. In work rate, passing and positional discipline, Jones could hardly have set a better standard. And that goal against Portugal!
But the weight of a World Cup can change people. It can reduce them. Still, fearless is fearless, and Jones used the big occasion to catapult himself into greater U.S. fan approval. Klinsmann never said “I told you so,” but he certainly could have.
New England Revolution fans know this better than anyone. When Jones joined the Revs in late August 2014, the team was under. 500 with playoff hopes sinking. The Revs, suddenly steeled and inspired, went 9-1-1 the rest of the way. They blew past Columbus and then squeezed past Thierry Henry’s Red Bulls in the playoffs before falling to the Galaxy in the MLS Cup final.
Two related injury spells meant Jones played only about half the season in 2015, and even then, at a reduced capacity. Subsequently, the Revs never quite looked like the same MLS Cup threat.
The grizzled midfielder is back on the field now in MLS, this time for Colorado, his substantial penance for a rabid-dog imitation in last year’s playoffs now paid in full.
He’s also 34 now. It is certainly fair to wonder about his ongoing place with the national team. And frankly, as much as he helped New England, can anyone blame the Revs for asking Jones to shave some green off a contract that paid him $3 million guaranteed in 2015? Those are fair discussions. But …
It’s impossible to deny his big-picture impact. Healthy and well-rested, Jones was a man on a mission, with a goal and an assist in Colorado's 2-1 win over the Red Bulls in a sort of Snow Clasico redux on Saturday. Afterward, he said everything a good leader should say.
It’s hard to say if he can avoid injury, but being safely shielded from that debilitating artificial turf field of Gillette Stadium certainly won’t hurt.
Oh, Jones will make a mistake here and there, his emotions bound to boil over somewhere through a long, hot MLS summer. But if Jones stays healthy, there’s no reason to think he won’t continue to be a huge influence.
What this means for the Rapids
Pablo Mastroeni surely didn’t have much rope left coming into the season, dragging a dreadful 17-33-18 MLS record. Consider that Mike Petke was 30-19-19 in exactly the same number of regular season matches … and the Red Bulls fired him!
Honestly, given the club’s wandering personnel choices, it was difficult to see a direction around DSG Park. But Mastroeni has a little something going now. The Rapids’ only losses this year are by 1-0 scores: one at San Jose and one at Real Salt Lake. Neither of those will be circled as “bad losses.”
The Rapids were tough to beat last year, plenty stingy defensively. They just couldn’t score goals, which means they couldn’t win. The goals were still coming at a trickle this year, but Jones’ arrival could help shake things loose.
And Tim Howard’s arrival in the summer will boost this Colorado side even more. Too often considered “fly-over” clubs in the Rockies, the Rapids and rivals Real Salt Lake have the third- and second-most points in MLS, with Real being the only – and incredibly unlikely – unbeaten left in the league
All of this is truly unwelcome news for the rest of the West, which seemed to once again be the tougher conference – and now it looks even thornier than we thought. A hearty and healthy Rapids team, fortified with a muscular Jones, and with the trusty Howard en route, suddenly looks like a playoff contender.
MLS This and That
After careful scrutiny of a long MLS Round 7, I’d love to see …
A little more of this: The Steven Gerrard who ran the midfield in the Galaxy’s 4-1 romp-and-stomp is the one Arena thought he signed last year.
… and a little less of that: Inconsistency. Gerrard’s Friday performance, a collection of tackles and interceptions to match a batch of key passes, was such a stark contrast to last year’s appearance in Houston. Zapped by the South Texas heat and humidity in one of his early MLS run-outs, Gerrard gave everyone an early indication that day of the underwhelming things to come.
A little more of this: Free coffee and hot chocolate for the Rapids fans who braved Saturday’s spring blizzard at DSG Park? Nice touch, Rapids!
… and a little less of that: Yes, referee Baldomero Toledo bungled big decisions in the waning moments of Sunday’s contentious 2-2 draw between New England and Orlando. But the bungles more or less leveled out, so anyone crying “injustice!” is barking up the wrong tree of outrage here.
A little more of this: Atlanta just unveiled plans for its spiffy training facilities. If this is indicative of the club’s commitment to soccer and MLS, well, good things are ahead. [We detailed all of that here in an exclusive behind-the-scenes with the club.]
… and a little less of that: It’s just such a shame Atlanta is going into this thing with long term plans of playing on artificial turf. The stadium is awesome. But more turf in MLS? Blek! [Yes, MLS needs to get off of turf.]
A little more of this: We know the Didier Drogba of 2016 simply cannot play every minute of every match, and that Montreal must carefully manage the Chelsea legend’s time. But heavens, the man sure can make an impact. He has appeared in just two MLS matches this year and made a significant impact in both (although he scored in just one, last week’s win over Chicago.)
… and a little less of that: Jordan Morris scored a goal (one goal!) and you’d think he saved the franchise from impending relocation. We seemed determined to spotlight and analyze this kid to death.
A little more of this: We all figured Chris Wondolowski would catch Ante Razov this year to move into fourth place on the MLS all-time goals list with 115. Sure enough, he did Saturday, earlier than most of us thought. Catching Jaime Moreno (133 goals) for third seemed a Bay area bridge too far. Now? Well … “Wonder Wondo” has six in seven games. And he isn’t that far removed from his 27-goal season in 2012. So we’ll see.
… and a little less of that: Team of the Week selections can be subjective. And difficult. FC Dallas’ Fabian Castillo popped up on a couple, including the league’s official Team of the Week. But Max Urruti and Michael Barrios were more responsible for FC Dallas’ big 6-point week. Simply put, Barrios (11 goals since early last July) has been a better, more productive player than Castillo since late in 2015.
Steve Davis has covered MLS since its inception. His column can be found weekly on FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @SteveDavis90.