By Kyle McCarthy
Visionaries always encounter some form of resistance, but Junius Jones found his skeptics in particularly close proximity.
There were justifiable reasons for the doubts expressed during a family gathering on this mid-April night, though. Junius stood up on the eve of his father’s first game with the Colorado Rapids, gestured toward his dad and declared he would score on his debut for his new club.
Even Jermaine Jones could not contain his laughter. There are plenty of terms employed to describe the 34-year-old midfielder. Goalscorer rarely ranks among them.
“Now, OK,” Jones told ussoccer.com as he picks up the story. “I knew I’d play one position higher, but I said, ‘You know, Daddy isn’t scoring many goals.” He said, ‘Yes, yes. You will score a goal.” I was like, “OK.” In the moment when I scored, that’s why I put my hands up to him.”
The entire sequence – starting with those precious family moments the night before and running all the way through his winner – captures the past few months neatly. Jones is on a quest for personal and professional fulfillment. More often than not, the quest includes him exploring territory further afield.
Colorado coach Pablo Mastroeni laid the groundwork for those excursions when Jones joined the Rapids earlier this year and started to prepare for the end of a six-match suspension procured at the end of last season. Most coaches look at Jones and settle straight on his combative qualities. They see a relentless figure capable of breaking up the opposition, covering acres in the center of the park and linking the play with his range of passing. Jones boasts those qualities, but they don’t define or limit him. And those traits, while helpful and necessary, did not quite fit what the club needed.
Instead of trying to adjust the existing, resolute framework to accommodate Jones, Mastroeni opted to move the veteran midfielder further up the field instead. He stripped away the usual encumbrances afforded to players with Jones’ qualities. He trusted Jones to disrupt as he always did. He just wanted him to ally those familiar traits in a more advanced role and tacked on the responsibility to prod the Rapids forward in the attacking third.
“On the field, Jermaine brings a lot of leadership qualities,” Mastroeni explained to ussoccer.com shortly after Jones’ debut. “He’s a player who is very good on both sides of the ball. He brings a different dynamic. He’s good at stopping plays higher up the field. He’s good at building plays. One thing I’ve been surprised with is his ability to finish. As we continue to develop and grow as a group, I’m really looking forward to him being a leader on the field and working on both sides of the ball.”
It did not take long for Jones to reveal the possibilities created by his new deployment. Jones matched his goal total from his one-and-a-half seasons in New England with two goals in his first two matches. He topped it with a precise finish inside the far post in the 1-0 victory over Real Salt Lake earlier this month. The totality of his production – three goals, two assists and a six-match unbeaten run since his debut – is a vital component in the Rapids’ unexpected run to the top of the MLS Western Conference.
Jones cuts an invigorated figure as he serves as the fulcrum for the Rapids’ incursions. The supporting cast, including the industrious Micheal Azira in a holding role, the incisive Shkelzen Gashi on the left and the returning Kevin Doyle up front, complements him well. The transition to a new club closer to his southern California base suits him. The external pursuits – Jones says spends much of his downtime reading through the Bible and watching documentaries – tend to his spirit away from the field.
Those factors form the basis for his influence. Jones is not a force on the wane. He is an integral figure in the surprise story of the MLS season to date. And he remains an integral part of the plans for U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann as the Copa América Centenario reaches full tilt this weekend.
Jermaine Jones' sterling performance against Costa Rica in the USA's second Copa America Centenario match nabbed the midfielder Budweiser Man of the Match honors.
“I’ve played now in first leagues for almost 16 years,” Jones said. “And, you know, it’s funny, I don’t feel that age right now. I feel really good for my body.”
It is why Jones dares to peer into the future, even past the travails ahead this summer. His primary objective remains steadfast and unwavering: He wants to stay in the U.S. National Team picture long enough to feature in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in two years’ time.
“I still feel too good to say, you know what, I’ll put the shoes up there and say it’s done,” Jones said. “That’s not my point. I have my goals. My goal is to go to the 2018 World Cup and then maybe I’ll retire from the National Team and play maybe somewhere close to LA and make an agency or coaching in the league.”
Even as other components in his new life come into focus, those particulars are uncertain for the moment. Not even the familial soothsayer offers guidance yet. It is instead left for Jones to chart his own path, even if it starts a little further ahead than anticipated.