Jones showing he's worth risk for US Soccer
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Given recent events, it would have been fair to question United States soccer coach Jurgen Klinsmann's decision to add Jermaine Jones to the January camp roster. Even more fair to scrutinize was the decision to make him captain.
Earlier this month, Germany's soccer federation handed Jones, a midfielder for Schalke in the Bundesliga, an eight-week club suspension for intentionally stepping on an opponent's injured foot. And in 10 league matches this season, he has amassed six yellow cards. Doesn't exactly sound like captain material, does it?
Despite that spotty history, Jones has proved in camp and in Saturday's friendly against Venezuela that he was a risk worth taking, displaying leadership and skill that bode well for the national team.
"He elevated the whole group within one training session with his energy, his leadership and with his vision on the field," Klinsmann said Saturday after his team's 1-0 victory at University of Phoenix Stadium. "It makes just a big difference."
Jones was a late addition to the annual camp after two players withdrew with injuries, but he quickly made his presence felt. It's no surprise that the 30-year-old German-American was the best player on the field, as he is fresh from playing on an elite level while the MLS players that made up most of the US roster are out of season. By all accounts, Jones made everyone in camp better simply by pushing the tempo.
It was the leadership that was unexpected.
"I think (being called into camp) kind of inspired him," Klinsmann said. "He really wanted to show that he's proud to be here. He obviously is extremely happy that we made this possible.
"It was a win-win for everyone. His leadership today was awesome to see."
Jones apologized to the player he wronged in Germany, as well as to his coach and teammates, and it's clear now that he's making the best of a bad situation. His stint with the national team has been a chance to prove to Klinsmann, who took over in July, that he can be a positive force on a team in transition.
"I was happy when the coach called me," Jones said. "I wanted to play and I wanted the chance to play here and just be happy."
From the moment he got to Phoenix, Jones has made good on the opportunity he's been given. He arrived on Jan. 14, practiced twice the following day and then refused a chance to recoup from traveling.
"I asked him if he wanted to kind of relax a little bit, maybe just shake it off," Klinsmann said. "He said 'No, no. I'm right there.' So he jumped right in, and everybody could see why he's playing on a Champions League team."
Jones, whose Schalke team is a Champions League regular but only reached the Europa League this season, impressed in camp from a skill standpoint and continued that Saturday in the US win. He displayed an aggressive approach and set up Ricardo Clark's game-winning goal in the seventh minute of second-half extra time. He did get a yellow card, but it wasn't particularly egregious.
The opportunity in camp wasn't all about Jones, though. Older than all but one player in the group, Jones imparted what wisdom he could on the young players looking to earn a spot on Klinsmann's main roster.
"We had good training sessions these last (two) weeks," Jones said. "I was confident in the training and connected with all the guys. I think the game showed that we all connected together."
Klinsmann said of Jones' mentoring: "You look at the team that we brought in for this camp, it's all hungry, good players that want to make the next step. . . . He took care of that. Jermaine jumped in and talked with the guys and led them."
It was that, Klinsmann said, that made it an easy decision to name Jones captain. With a positive showing on and off the field, Jones almost certainly has earned a more prominent place in Klinsmann's plans going forward. Perhaps more important, he's making up for a mistake.
Klinsmann said the decision to make Jones captain for the match — and presumably next week's match in Panama — was a message about the leadership that US Soccer wants from him. So far, it looks like Jones is hearing that message loud and clear.