To Jermaine Jones, family is everything. For proof, one needs only look to one of his newly completed tattoos.
“I got my whole back done recently,” Jones told ussoccer.com. “It’s my whole family, and me like an angel over them to represent that I’m trying to be the angel of the family and trying to protect them any way that I can. That’s the symbol there.”
Hard-nosed, tough in the tackle, and full of drive to come away victorious, the symbol of Jones as an angel drives in stark contrast to his play on the field. According to the 34-year-old midfielder, there’s a difference between the player people have seen every week for club and country and the person that exists off the field.
“When I talk with people, especially media that I say, if I go on the field, I’m a guy that wants to win and I don’t like to lose. It has nothing to do with how you act outside of the field. It’s different. Outside of the field, I’m a family guy, I love to play with my kids and people that know me would say he’s more shy than he acts on the field. I don’t like to let people around me when I don’t really know them, but people I know, they’ll say that Jermaine is the nicest guy and they can trust me in everything I do. If I don’t like people, I don’t rock with them, I don’t hang with them. I let them do their own stuff.”
After spending 18 months with the New England Revolution, which saw the veteran midfielder go through the high of leading the club to an MLS Cup Finals appearance in 2014 and low of a disappointing red card to end his time with the club in last year’s MLS Cup Playoffs, Jones has had much more time to spend with his wife Sarah and their five children at the family home in Los Angeles.
Family time extended this month with January camp once again taking place at the U.S. Soccer National Training Center in Carson, California, allowing the 34-year-old midfielder to stay at home every night. With U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s blessing, Jones has commuted to training every day.
It’s way easier for me and the family to be around them. It’s amazing to stay at home. It’s very important to have family around me, especially my kids, and to give them the feeling after I stayed one and a half years in Boston, to know that they have me here now is pretty cool.
The extra time at home has also given Jones an extended period to contemplate some other things. He’s changed his diet, ditching meat and fish to become a vegetarian and has focused more on his spirituality, regularly attending church with his wife and father-in-law.
“I’ve always believed in something, but I started to get more focused on it when I started living in the States. Since I came back from Boston, I started to ask ‘What do I want to do? What do I want my focus to be?’ I started to read the Bible, get religion and start to believe. It’s a big change, but it’s pretty cool, especially when you talk to people that are long-time believers.”
A greater emphasis on his faith and the childhood experience of learning to overcome obstacles have helped him cope at his current career crossroad which began on Oct. 28. Playing what would become his final match for New England, the Revolution trailed D.C. United 2-1 late in the Knockout Round match at RFK Stadium, before Jones brought down a ball in the box that appeared to be handled in the area by United defender Sean Franklin.
As referee Mark Geiger waved off penalty shouts from Revolution players, Jones bee lined towards the official angrily arguing the non-call before being shown his second yellow card of the match. Already ejected from the game, Jones continued his protest, placing his hands on Geiger, which eventually forced the MLS Disciplinary Committee to hand him a six-game suspension.
“I sat in the locker room and I knew straight away it was a mistake,” Jones said of the incident. “I know it wasn’t correct what I did.”
Though no longer under contract with Major League Soccer, FIFA rules stipulate that Jones will have to serve the suspension in whatever league he ends up playing in next, making a move to clubs who are halfway through their European seasons a challenge.
“At the end of the day, it’s not my decision or their decision. It comes from up there (pointing to the heavens). He knows where I’m going so I’ll be relaxed and wait. If I go crazy now, it will not bring me something. I sit back, train well, get fit and get ready for when someone calls and can show the people that I’m ready to go.”
While Jones thinks anytime you suit up for the National Team is important, he knows that Sunday’s 3-2 friendly win against Iceland as well as Friday’s clash with Canada will be even more significant for him, as he looks to showcase himself for a potential club suitor.
“For me it’s two important games to show the people. Maybe they look back and say ‘He’s got a six-game suspension, he’s 34, maybe he’s not fit.’ It’s two games to show everybody I’m back and fit, 100 percent. I feel pretty good. I lost some pounds this offseason, but I’m still not finished. I want to get in good shape and if some team signs me, I want to do what I did in the first year when I came to New England.”
Jones intimated that finding the right club situation that allows him a multi-year contract in order to focus on his game and fitness is of the utmost importance to keeping himself in the MNT picture. Though age 34, he still has three big goals for his international career: playing at this summer’s Copa America Centenario, being named as one of the overage players for the U.S. U-23 MNT should the team qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and bringing the curtain down by playing for the U.S. at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
It’s admittedly a lot to accomplish for a 34-year-old player, but Jones, who has continued to show he’s a key piece to the National Team, pointed to the recent accomplishments of other aging stars as examples and inspiration for what he still expects to achieve.
MNT midfielder Jermaine Jones slides into a tackle against Iceland in the USA's opening match of 2016, a 3-2 win at StubHub Center.
“I would say, how old is Didier Drogba? How he played in MLS, if the World Cup were to come and he was still fit, he would go to the World Cup. I know, [former Bayern Munich midfielder] Ze Roberto who played in Europe a long time. He’s 41 but if you see how he plays, he won the Brazilian Cup [with Palmeiras in 2015]. He’s the captain there and he’s fit. It’s not about the age, it’s about what you show on the pitch. It’s how you represent yourself. I’m 34, but I don’t feel 34 right now. A lot of people would say ‘It’s tough to play against him or run against him. He doesn’t act like he’s 34.’ It’s tough, there’s still a couple years to go, but for me it’s important to look year-to-year and try to get fit.”
Whatever transpires with his club situation and how that plays into his role with the National Team, it might not be prudent to bet against Jones. While he’s faced trials and tribulations at different points throughout a career that has seen him play in the highest leagues in Germany, England, Turkey and the United States, his resiliency - learned at very young age - has kept him going as much as anything else.
“Sometimes stuff happens, you have to push that stuff away. It’s always funny to see how many people want to put rocks or stones in the way you want to go. It’s happened so many times in my career. At the end of the day, I’ve always put the stones and the rocks away and shown the people in different situations that I’m a different guy - show people that he never takes the easy way, but he always comes back.”
On Feb. 9, 2013, the U.S. Women’s National Team kicked off the new year with a 4-1 victory against Scotland in Jacksonville, Florida. Christen Press, then 24-years-old, was responsible for two goals that day, scoring in the 13th minute and adding another in the 32nd to give the U.S. a 2-0 lead at halftime.
The early goal was Press’ first for the USA, coming in a match that was also her first cap.
Becky Sauerbrunn hugs Christen Press in the aftermath of Press scoring on her WNT debut.
Earning that first cap is special for any player, but a debut and a goal in the same game? That’s a rare feat. In the 30+ year history of the U.S. WNT 21 players have scored in their first caps.
NOTHING TO LOSE
Press’ path to that first game three years ago was an interesting one. In early 2012, she made the decision to move to Sweden after U.S.-based Women’s Professional Soccer folded. Press thought leaving the country might negatively impact her hopeful National Team career, but little did she know, it was only just beginning.
“I think just because I always thought that the National Teams would be watching the American league, I thought that going abroad was kind of like saying goodbye to my dream of playing for the National Team,” recalled Press. “I left around this time, in February, and I thought I would not get a call, I sort of thought that I would fall out of U.S. Soccer’s radar.”
As it turns out, head coach Pia Sundhage kept tabs on players in Europe, especially in her native land of Sweden. Press got off to a hot start with her new club, and it wasn’t long before she was on her way back home.
Press returned to the U.S. and joined the WNT in Florida in April during the final stretch of what had been an intense fitness camp. She kept to herself and tried to quickly learn as much as possible despite only being there for five days.
“I had nothing to lose,” she said. “It was my first camp, it was warm and I was so happy. I don’t think I spoke to anybody. I was not nervous, I was just happy to be in Florida and my dream was coming true. I’m always quiet when I don’t know my surroundings, so I just kept to myself trying to learn the rules, how to behave; it was all so quick.”
That short stint turned out to be the only one for Press before she was named an Olympic alternate in 2012. The following February, Tom Sermanni took over as WNT head coach, and it was then Press learned she would start against Scotland. Her chance had arrived.
“I went on the field, the crowd was so much bigger than I’d ever played in front of, and for me it was so much bigger than life,” said Press. “But I kept telling myself, ‘I’m not nervous, I’m confident, I’m a good player and I believe in myself.’”
Years and multiple goals later, plus one Women’s World Cup title to her name, the dream is alive and well for Press.
Press celebrates scoring her first World Cup goal against Australia in the USA's opening match of the 2015 Women's World Cup