Jermaine Jones jells with USA

[UNDER THE MICROSCOPE] Knocked off the World Cup roster because of a broken leg, midfielder Jermaine Jones debuted for the USA with two impressive showings against Poland and Colombia.

Of seeing Jones in a U.S. jersey for the first time, I’m reminded of what the late Clive Charles said of his first sighting of another player who would one day represent his country:

“He just looked like a soccer player.”

Charles, the former University of Portland and U.S. Soccer coach who played professionally in England and the USA, was talking about Steve Cherundolo, whom he scouted as youth player in San Diego County and mentored for two years at Portland before Cherundolo headed off to Germany. More than a decade later, Cherundolo is Hannover’s captain and so popular in the city he’s jokingly called “The Mayor” by his U.S. teammates, since that office could be his for the taking.

Jones, born and raised in Germany, plays for rival Bundesliga club Schalke, and certainly doesn’t have that same political cachet in Gelsenkirchen, but he, too, looks more like a soccer player than many Americans, since they never seem to attain that symbiosis of balance, quickness, touch, and acumen far more common on opposing teams.

Whether it’s a pragmatic European team like Slovenia or Poland or Denmark, or a cagey, tricky squad of Colombians, or a posse of pulverizing powerhouses from Ghana, they often play with more positional sense, more comfort on the ball, and more poise. They have soccer players, not just athletic or talented guys playing soccer.

Jones brought a focused fluidity to his play against Poland and Colombia, two teams that brought completely different styles and characteristics and mentalities into their friendlies against the U.S. His closing speed is frightening, he is strong and tough enough to win tackles, he passes well with either foot, and he shrewdly clocks time and measures space all over the field. He’s supple and agile yet solidly built. He looks the part of a center mid with the engine to cover a lot of ground but is also smart enough to find the right spots as the ball moves and situations change.

Against Poland, his first-time arrow up the middle of the field that Jozy Altidore turned into the first goal was just one of several raking balls delivered precisely and at a good clip. Many Americans are slightly off-balance as they strike the ball and it often hops or tails or floats. Players and coaches talk of “pinging” the ball around, hitting it firmly and cleanly so it gets there, quick, to the right spot and at the right pace. With Jones, that’s the rule, not the exception.

Jones hunts the ball hungrily a la Chris Armas, to cite one example. Because of his anticipation and quickness he either got to passes before they reached the intended receiver so they could be intercepted, or arrived at about the same moment and at the proper angle to stuff the ensuing first touch.

Prior to the World Cup, his reputation was that of a skilled yet robust midfield destroyer prone to cautions. He did pick up a yellow in the Colombia game, perhaps due to fatigue, as he was one of the few players who went the full 90 in both games. Coach Bob Bradley said he’d use the two matches to evaluate players and he did just that; he made just one sub in the Poland game and with five changes against Colombia gave every one of the 20 players selected at least 45 minutes of action.

Unlike Poland, which came out to play and left space in midfield, Colombia clogged up the passing lanes, which stifled the U.S. attack until it reverted to a 4-4-2 formation in the second half. Jones had to change his game and though less prominent offensively against Colombia was no less influential.

Adding him to the midfield mix gives the U.S. yet another central player, albeit one with more range and agility than Michael Bradley, more composure than Ricardo Clark, more skill than Maurice Edu, and more steel than Sacha Kljestan.

The good news is he could play with any of these players in any combination, and can certainly complement the talents of Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Stuart Holden, and whichever other attacking elements are selected. He can also increase competition for what is becoming a very crowded midfield pool.

The issue for Jones is not whether he’s better than any or all of these players. He is simply a different animal; gifted physically, honed by years of play in the Bundesliga, and driven by the disappointment of missing the 2010 World Cup after shifting his allegiances from Germany (he earned three German caps early in his career) to the USA. He turns 29 in November, and thus at the 2014 World Cup he’d be the same age as Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley and a year older than Dempsey.

For a national team that can be embarrassingly short on soccer players, this guy seems to be a keeper.

18 comments about "Jermaine Jones jells with USA".
  1. geoffersen , October 14, 2010 at 2:27 a.m.

    Amen, Ridge. Bradley and Jones don't seem like the CM answer, but Jones should play, so...

  2. David Huff, October 14, 2010 at 11:43 a.m.

    It is time for "Team Bradley" to just go . . .

  3. Scott O'Connor, October 14, 2010 at 11:49 a.m.

    He just looked like a soccer player. Word. I watched him play a few games with Schalke this season and I was mildly impressed. However, he showed me a lot more in these two friendlies - he definitely played better with the US shirt on than his club shirt (although the games I saw were against top ranked Bundesliga clubs so the quality of his opponents was probably stronger in those games).

  4. Mike Gaire, October 14, 2010 at 11:51 a.m.

    I think Jones looks like a very good addition to our midfield. Its time for Bradley Senior to admit that there are times when Bradley Junior needs to be subbed out or benched! He has been an "automatic choice" too often. He needs to earn his chance to play.

  5. Scott O'Connor, October 14, 2010 at 11:53 a.m.

    Here's the key question: Can Bob Bradley take off his Dad hat and replace Mike with JJ? The midfield is getting a bit small for the likes of Mike. Stu Holden and Benny Feilhaber are playing well for their clubs. Maurice Edu is playing Champions League games with Rangers. Mike is plateauing. Haven't seen a lot of growth in his repertoire over the last couple years.

  6. James Froehlich, October 14, 2010 at 12:01 p.m.

    Ridge, I was pleasantly SURPRISED with your brief analysis of the US player pool --- "...he, too, looks more like a soccer player than many Americans, since they never seem to attain that symbiosis of balance, quickness, touch, and acumen far more common on opposing teams." ---- Unfortunately and as usual,you didn't continue on to identify the source of that deficiency -- US Soccer and its outdated and deficient coaching education and player development. If you're not careful Sunil and Dan may remove you from their Christmas card list !!!

  7. Joe Grady, October 14, 2010 at 12:17 p.m.

    Wow! You seeing the same player I was watching in Chester? For the first time ever seeing this guy (either on TV or in person),after reading about him forever, I was not impressed in the least. Yes, he won some balls, but he made bad pass after bad pass; many, many giveaways and played as uninspired as the rest of the team. Given the pedigree, I'm not saying he shouldn't be back, God knows we can use a guy who starts for a Bundesliga team. But Jones, and the rest of the US team, were CRAP on Tuesday. I missed the Poland match, so maybe he played better there.

  8. Keith Wiseman, October 14, 2010 at 12:47 p.m.

    I haven't seen Jones in Bundesliga action at all yet but over the sum of the 2 recent games I definitely saw him as a cut above any of our current holding midfielders. Anyone that thinks Bradley Jr or Clark should start over him are clueless.
    As for American players that "never seem to attain that symbiosis of balance, quickness, touch, and acumen"... While that is a problem with the typical players we produce here that doesn't mean there aren't numerous top-level players that can (or are capable of) playing with more poise and fluidity. The problem is Bob Bradley (and his predecessors) look for athleticism, toughness, and a direct style of play while foregoing skillful players that don't fit his "mold".

  9. David Huff, October 14, 2010 at 1:07 p.m.

    @ Keith, I concur 100%, USSF/MLS's approach is to emphasize the athleticism/physical approach while neglecting the more technically skilled players that are out there. Unfortunately we will have more of the same for the next four long years under "Team Bradley".

  10. John Foust, October 14, 2010 at 1:51 p.m.

    Sadly, I agree with Keith and David and others who bemoan the "Team Bradley" image ... Michael Bradley brings energy and drive, and it has earned some goals that less aggressive U.S. players may not have converted, but he makes way more mistakes than good plays, such that even his occasional great plays, like goals in the World Cup, equal a net negative for the U.S. MNT. Jones was OK - what remains missing is a Tab Ramos of Claudia Reyna-type, which Donovan is not .. but maybe a Torres could become. Yet he gets passed over. Amazing. And none of this even addresses the pathetic state of U.S. MNT strikers/forwards and the inability of the coaching staff to bring in new blood, even just to see if change is better than the present. Build the team around the middle, possibly Dempsey at forward, Jones/Torres as middies, and Goodson/Gonzalez central defending ... worth a try. Guys like Donovan and Holden play better wide, and the wing defenders need to emulate Cherundolo ...

  11. C. Zee, October 14, 2010 at 2:06 p.m.

    The system has to start at the top down - US Soccer has wavered on organizing fixures so that MLS players are free on FIFA dates. (I hear you Mr. Klinsmann)

    Its 2010 and MLS still play on the same day as the US National Team. The abilities of US players has as much to do with the fabric of football as the mentality set forth by the leagues and federation. WPS get as much press from some of our media as men's soccer. This is not about equality.

    The mentality that 2nd rate or even third rate footballing nations can send players from their modest leagues and fill MLS rosters is a cue that the thousands of US youth clubs and academys are not doing enough to teach Americans to be professional products.

    Abition can be equated to potential. Money talks and so do American college products (most in less than two years after being drafted by MLS teams)

    The Freddy Adus, Eddie Gavins and Bobby Conveys have carved out mediocre careers - (no offense guys) but for lack of opportunities / finances in American soccer. Equate that to the money that NCAA basketball and gridiron football players offer for even average talent.

    The day when foreigners start wearing replica jerseys of American players as they do with Kaka, Ronaldo and Rooney, that is the day our train has arrived.

    Maybe we need new engineers ?

  12. Philippe Fontanelli, October 14, 2010 at 3:13 p.m.

    What a suprise after Paul Kennedy called the spade a spade now all of the sudden Ridge Mahoney is also jumping on the bandwagon. He has finally bringing himself and quasi admitting w/o pointing to the Bradley and Bradley fiasco. (See below)
    "The good news is he (Jones) could play with any of these players in any combination, and can certainly complement the talents of Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Stuart Holden, and whichever other attacking elements are selected." ----If you see MB wasn't mention in this formation----
    "He can also increase competition for what is becoming a very crowded midfield pool."
    -----Adding to the above four; Torres definetly, Felhaber most likely and Edu probaly would serve better the formation, the midfield and the rest of the team and come before Bradley.----

  13. Philippe Fontanelli, October 14, 2010 at 3:29 p.m.

    Ric you are very right about your comment on Ridge saying that "Coach Bob Bradley said he’d use the two matches to evaluate players and he did just that"---My question is that why did he had to start and played Junior the entire game? Why did he needed to evaluate Junior? Junior has a ticket bought and paid for at every game and for the entire game, regardless. BTW different subject Why is Edgar Castillo is not talked about and called in? Why not persue the following players for the US National Team before we loose them for good; Miguel Ponce of Guadalajara, Marco Antonio Vidal of Pachuca and Sammy Ochoa ofTecos Estudiantes?

  14. Paul Lorinczi, October 14, 2010 at 3:37 p.m.

    Here I thought I was the only one that did not think MB walked on water. I have been arguing that if the US team is going to build its team around MB, we are doomed. I think players need to be auditioning around JJones. It is obvious he is a higher quality than some of our guys. He has good touch and the timing on his tackles in midfield are special. Unlike some of our guys, he is willing to go forward versus negative all the time. I am not sure BB will see his contract out. I would love to see a JJones/Torres midfield - 2 technically gifted players that could raise our level play.

  15. Mark Huber, October 14, 2010 at 4:56 p.m.

    I second the JJones/Torres midfield. Given that both seem to be much more fluid than any other option, I'd love to see it. I think Torres is the best chance of another Ramos we're going to have for a while.

  16. Kevin Leahy, October 14, 2010 at 8:17 p.m.

    Much to my dismay and apparently others, we will not see the likes of Torres or any of the other hispanic players. They do not fit this coaches vision. It tends to be more like college soccer. It is a crime to have gifted players you can use and to completely ignore them. It also sends the wrong message to any other players that may be in the pipeline. One player in particular is Andy Najar, who has been the only reason to watch D.C. United at all this year. Would he even consider becoming a U.S. citizen with this attitude toward other hispanic players?

  17. Karl Ortmertl, October 15, 2010 at 3:54 a.m.

    It's hard to get too excited about the MNT with Bradley as coach. Who knows the cause of the anti-Hispanic bias? Racism or just style of play. It doesn't matter why, the problem is it's clearly there. Not playing Torres while gumming up the middle with Michael Bradley is a crime and infuriating to suffer thru. The US looks like it has plenty of mid field talent and the idea is to have a coach creative enough to come up with formations that can effectively get more of these guys into the lineup and less of the untalented forwards and defenders into the lineup. There is no hope of this type of innovative thinking with Bradley whose brain seems to go into cruise control immediately after penciling his son into the middle of everything.

  18. Patrick Izzo, October 15, 2010 at 5:46 a.m.

    Although I agree that Jones is a very good player I would not agree that anyone had an impressive showing in the Colombia game. That was the worst game I ever watched on both sides of the ball. I can't judge the Poland game as I unfortunately had to work but from what I saw of Jones I believe that he will be an important addition to the starting 11. Now we just need to get Bradley out of the starting 11.

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