Jermaine Jones turned back the clock and was the best player for the USMNT
When Jermaine Jones is at his best, he's the United States' best player and capable of tilting the field of an entire match. On Tuesday, with the Americans' Copa America Centenario lives on the line, there's no doubt that he was at his best.
Jones was absolutely dominating. He was involved in seemingly every play, either winning it back, driving it forward or pushing the Ticos defense back. For a player whose came is based generally on work rate, mobility and fearlessness, it was perfect.
It wasn't as if Jones was simply a try-hard player either. He has a handful of inch-perfect passes, splitting defenders or getting the ball over the top to forwards in space. His savvy runs opened room for his opponents and left Costa Rica's defense flummoxed. There was nothing he didn't do.
The U.S. needed Jones to be as good as he was, too.
With the Americans pushing players forward every chance they got and going up against a Costa Rica team that also wanted to attack with numbers, there was acres of space in the middle of the pitch. The Americans' defense looked shaky at times, especially in the early going, so the U.S. almost certainly would have found themselves in trouble if they were tested regularly. And the U.S. got chances not because of outstanding creativity or chance creation, but because they had the ball in the attacking third so much.
The U.S. defense wasn't tested much and their forwards were living on the ball. That was because of Jones, who didn't just cover the ground in the center, he got the ball from front to back time and time again.
To see Jones put on a clinic isn't new. The 2014 World Cup was basically a showcase for the midfielder, who did everything that the Americans could ask of him and was their best player in Brazil. But Jones is 34 years old now.
After the World Cup, Jones went to the New England Revolution, where he was wonderful for the remainder of the season. But he dealt with injuries in 2015 and his play dipped. When his contract expired, the Revs didn't show a ton of interest in retaining him and he was shipped to the Colorado Rapids.
COMMERCE CITY, CO - MAY 11: Ike Opara (3) of Sporting Kansas City fouls Jermaine Jones (13) of Colorado Rapids resulting in a red card fro Opara during the second half of the Rapids' 1-0 win. The Colorado Rapids hosted Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday, May 11, 2016. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Into his mid-30's is old for any player, let alone an ultra-mobile midfielder - there were plenty of reasons so think that Jones was done. That the Rapids were foolish to sign him and that his time for the national team was coming to an end.
After a rocky match against Colombia in the Americans' Copa America opener, many wanted him out of the starting lineup. He simply didn't have it anymore, the thinking went.
It sure doesn't look that way now. It took mere minutes for him to put his stamp on the match against Costa Rica, flying through the middle from the opening whistle.
For 90 minutes, Jones looked like the player who dominated at the World Cup in 2014. So when he scored, hitting a brilliant curling shot to the back post, it's no wonder that it brought up memories of his goal against Portugal in Brazil. It may not have been quite as pretty, but the way he found space, the ball and finished perfectly, was everything the U.S. could want from Jones, to go along with all the dirty work he did.
When a team wins 4-0, as the U.S. did, it's impossible to hand one player all the credit and the Americans did get good performances from several player. They, as a squad, dominated Costa Rica. But even on a night where any of five players played well enough to be Man of the Man in any other game, it was clear that there was only one Man of the Man on this night. The 34-year-old with dreadlocks who was everywhere for 90 minutes, seemingly incapable of tiring or putting a foot wrong.