SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica — It’s a measure of U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s faith in Jermaine Jones that he started Jones in the 2-1 loss to Mexico on Friday even though Jones had played only one close-to-full game at any level in the previous 13 weeks due to a knee injury.
In some ways, Jones was Jones against Mexico—a marauding midfielder whose Tasmanian Devil energy reserves put him in the middle of confrontations all over the field. According to Jones, his LCL injury prevented him from kicking a ball during his injury layoff, but it didn’t do anything to stop his fitness work, which continued unabated. At age 35, Jones is still a freak when it comes to his motor, and that’s no small thing.
But while Jones was everywhere on Friday, his passing touch was missing in an advanced role that required it to be there. Jones, who had been a revelation as an attacking midfielder in Colorado before his injury, was clearly showing rust in his distribution on Friday, which made sense for a guy who hasn’t been playing games for three months.
“I was 13 weeks injured,” Jones said before the Mexico game. “I was still doing fitness. Now I have to get rhythm from the games.”
That rhythm part is a work in progress. You had to wonder what was going through the mind of Sacha Kljestan, the MLS assists leader who had been combining well with Michael Bradley and Christian Pulisic in a U.S. uniform, only to find himself in a spot on the bench against Mexico.
After the game, Klinsmann was asked why he went with Jones over Kljestan, and the coach said Jones “confirmed why we made that decision … Jermaine is coming back. His experience, his drive, the way he plays is very important to us. It took him a bit to get into the game, but he got better and better. He has the legs for 90 minutes.”
Left unsaid was the lack of crisp passing that Kljestan likely could have provided. Jones was 25 of 40 passing, with not a single completed pass within 20 yards of the Mexico goal. But one thing that’s clear under Klinsmann is that if Jones is anywhere near able to play, he will. In the 55 games under Klinsmann in which Jones has been available for selection, the coach has put Jones in the starting lineup 52 times, or 95% of the time. (The only exceptions have been a World Cup qualifier at Antigua and Barbuda in 2012 and friendlies at France and Slovenia in 2011.) Jones is Klinsmann’s security blanket, a player he thinks is indispensable for the way he “steps on the toes” of opponents, as Klinsmann likes to say.
While Klinsmann has said that you can’t rely on players over 35 at a World Cup, you get the sense that he’s not including Jones, who will be 36 at Russia 2018, in that. And to his credit, Jones has yet to show any decline in his engine turnover. He also has a lot of pride. In an interview last week, Jones noted that New England missed the MLS playoffs only after he left the team to join Colorado, which became a playoff team only after he arrived.
“I wouldn’t say I’m the only impact for that, but I am involved in the process,” Jones said.
In fact, Jones thinks he can use Colorado’s playoff run to help get himself an improved MLS contract when his current one (one year, $550,000 guaranteed) expires at the end of this season. His family lives in the Los Angeles area, and Jones has never shied away from saying he’d like to play in LA, either for the Galaxy or for LAFC when it starts play in 2018.
“I’ll be honest,” he says. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t prefer to play in L.A.—at the end of the day, that’s my home, where my kids and family are. So I want to be around them. But I’m thankful Colorado gave me that chance. The best thing would be to get the title and sit down and see what happens. When the season is finished I’m a free agent. Everybody knows I bring something to the team. So if you need help, call me!”
Three more games stand between Jones and an MLS Cup title. Meanwhile, you can safely assume he’ll be on the field against Costa Rica on Tuesday in what has become an important game from which to take away a result. The bottom line: Jones is as relevant as ever on the U.S. soccer landscape.