This past Monday, Cobi Jones perhaps the most recognizable American player of his generation announced this MLS season will be his last. Many non soccer fans will remember Cobi Jones for his dreadlocks, but those of us that love the great game will remember his career as one of the most significant in the history of US Soccer.
Cobi Jones is one of the most capped players in the history of International Football. His 164 caps are the most in the history of the US National Team, and Jones inspired play is part of what created such a tense and enjoyable rivalry with Mexico, our neighbors to the South. Jones was a pioneer for African-American players becoming one of the first regular African-American players with the National Team. (Desmond Armstrong was the first regular African-American player but he played at a time when the national team got less attention and soccer was hardly ever on TV.) The upsurge in African-Americans participating in youth leagues and making their way into MLS and USL can be largely attributed to Jones’ impact.
Jones played for legendary club Vasco De Gama in Brazil, and Coventry City of the EPL before MLS began play in 1996. Jones was an original member of the Los Angeles Galaxy and is the only player who today remains with his original MLS club for the first season. While others like Eric Wynalda, Joe Max Moore and Brian McBride scored the goals for the US National Team, so much of the success enjoyed by both Steve Sampson in Copa America 1995 and WC Qualifying for 1998 and by Bruce Arena in the glorious 1999 to 2002 period owed itself to Jones hard work on the flanks and his scrappy, determined play.
No American player irritated the rival Mexican national team more than Jones. When Cobi Jones entered the 2002 World Cup Quarterfinal match versus Mexico with the US leading 1-0, Jones hustle play and comfort with the ball at his feet clinched the game and killed Mexico’s spirit. From his entrance forward Mexico seemed more determined to rough Jones up than to score an equalizer that would have sent the game to extra time.
Jones has made similar impact in Major League Soccer, leading the LA Galaxy to two MLS Cup titles and several other accolades. Cobi Jones, an American pioneer will go out the way he deserves to: playing alongside one of the world greats, David Beckham at the end of the 2007 MLS campaign.
Jones will no doubt go into a broadcasting career. His work for Fox Soccer Channel during Germany 2006 was solid, which probably disqualifies him from joining ESPN’s MLS broadcasts which consists largely of fluff and acts as a glorified infomercial for the league. Wherever Jones lands, he will be an asset to the growing game stateside.