Every twist and turn in the Jermaine Jones saga led to one fateful moment around midday on Sunday. Jones agreed to terms with MLS on Sunday morning. His fate improbably rested on the results of a blind draw. His next destination — Chicago or New England — hinged on pure chance.
It is both fantastic and utterly ridiculous to imagine the fate of a U.S. international midfielder tied to a random slip of paper in an envelope at this stage of the league’s development, but the scene developed to exit the purgatory created over the past few weeks.
There were two teams, two agents, one player, one league office and no consensus about how to distribute Jones’ rights within the byzantine single-entity system. This idea — inane and wretched as it is compared to the novel concept of allowing the player to pick his own destination — somehow won out over the regular allocation order used for U.S. internationals, the Designated Player allocation order and whatever other mechanism, method or order MLS might have devised to settle the score.
All of the consternation and dialogue ended in a matter of seconds. New England won the right to acquire the fourth Designated Player in club history on a reported 18-month, $4.7 million deal, according to ESPN analyst Alexi Lalas. Chicago lost out through poor luck. And everyone tried to process the fallout from the sudden conclusion to this protracted situation.
Most of the ugly trappings — the backroom machinations, the circuitous distribution methods, the paralyzing indecision, the pliable structures used to operate the league — will fall away quickly enough outside of Chicago. MLS isn’t to the point where inner workings generate debate within the general sports populace and spark enough scrutiny to force change. End product matters far more than the road traveled to get there to everyone outside of a dedicated and rightly skeptical core plenty familiar with the maneuvering.
The final result will come Tuesday when Jones joins his teammates in New England and starts his MLS career in earnest. He is the latest in the increasingly robust line of U.S. internationals to choose MLS over other alternatives. The timing of the signing — deep into August when the World Cup ended some six weeks ago — diminishes the wider impact a touch, but it is still meaningful for a league seeking to emerge as a destination of choice for American internationals.
Jones’ arrival is more than just the latest instance in a trend for the Revolution, though. He is a seven-figure statement of intent, a signal that investor/operators Robert and Jonathan Kraft will spend the money if they see fit to do so. His profile – World Cup star in a World Cup year – dovetailed neatly within the traditional model espoused by the club over the years. His eventual arrival owed to the Krafts’ enduring influence within league circles and their desire to secure Jones’ services at a significant cost.
The lavish expenditure makes sense for a side craving Jones’ industrious and robust presence in central midfield. He projects most neatly as a roving number eight, the sort of search and destroy figure trusted to claim possession, move the ball intelligently and provide protection. He is eminently capable of asserting control over a game at this standard and dictating its terms for 90 minutes once he returns to full sharpness.
Jones cannot afford to dither in his preparations given the predicament. New England currently sits one point outside the playoff places. D.C. United and Sporting Kansas City look well out of sight, but there is a donnybrook brewing with third-place Toronto FC and seventh-place Philadelphia separated by just three points. He must arrive ready for the fight straightaway to ensure his presence is worthwhile.
Chicago hoped to use Jones to propel its own draw-driven postseason case and throw itself into the fray. The time and energy expended to secure Jones limited the measures taken elsewhere at the top end of the roster. There are few players of Jones’ caliber available and interested at this stage of the transfer window. His loss — even though he did not necessarily fill a pressing vacancy for a team with greater needs elsewhere — strips away the most likely inspiration for a revival.
MLS must bear the burden of the Fire’s fury behind closed doors, but the league will undoubtedly believe the sight of Jones in the league merits the cost of those justified criticisms. The drama — at least in the boardroom — ended with a game of chance. It is now down to Jones to grasp their opportunity afforded and vindicate the energy, the money and the time expended with his performances over the next year-and-a-half.