Ives Galarcep confirmed this morning what I had read in the Euro papers early last night eastern time: that Jermaine Jones a disruptive but effective force for Schlake 04 in an otherwise disappointing few seasons for the Gelsenkirchen based club wants to play for the USA.
Watching Schalke (thank you GOL TV and Hallo Bundesliga program) Jones is a pretty solid holding midfielder although the team was horrible at times this past season and has been pretty poor by the standard of their fans since he arrived in the summer 2007 window.
Playing for the German U-21 team and three times in friendlies Jones is seeking to exploit a new FIFA ruling that allows players to change their national team even after the age of 21 if they have not played in a competitive international match. Jones is the son of an American serviceman, and even though he has never lived in the USA proper he holds dual citizenship.
Jones however could further develop into a budding star under Felix Magath who led Wolfsburg to the Bundesliga title this past season and now manages Schalke. But at 27, Jones whose growth has been remarkable over the past few seasons probably has only one more World Cup cycle in him after this one.
For all of Jones assets including starting at a top European club, he is a head case who unlike Jose Torres, the other recent conversion to the US doesn’t have particularly good technical ability and is a bit of a brutish player which fits in well in the Bundesliga but may be a problem combating Latin flair. Consider him a bit of a rich man’s Chris Armas or Demo Kovelenko.
Jones flamed out at Bayer Leverkusen, a club with experience for many current American pool players (Frankie Hejduk, John Thorrington and Landon Donovan), and was also injury prone. But in two stints at Eintracht Frankfurt he was a first team star when healthy. His time at Schalke has also been successful.
Bob Bradley must ultimately determine how disruptive Jones would be to this World Cup cycle. No question exists that Jones has more top level experience and ultimately better tactical senses than the other options at holding midfield.
But Bradley must consider the affects on team chemistry.
Famously, we’ve been through the David Regis saga once before and even though Regis proved to be a solid player integrating a guy with no experience in the national system and limited English fluency disrupted the team in a World Cup year. Regis was a skilled player and he ultimately helped the next US coach, Bruce Arena. But he did not help the one who quickly sought his citizenship and his inclusion in the squad, Steve Sampson. In fact the Regis saga contributed to Sampson’s ultimate demise as US manager.
For those who scream, Tom Dooley, keep in mind Dooley was brought in a full two years before a World Cup at a time when the US was hosting a World Cup and thus did not have to qualify. Furthermore, the US lacked skilled players at the time and Dooley and Earnie Stewart who was Dutch, were true professionals at a time when many American national team members were actually semi-professionals.
The professionalism Stewart and Dooley brought to the US and their willingness to embrace a country that they had never lived in brought up the level of the US National Team. Jones too is a player of some note in Germany, truthfully a higher level player than Dooley or Stewart was at the time in their countries. However, the US is not in need of professional players in 2009 as we were in 1991 and 1992- we have three fully professional divisions and countless players in professional leagues abroad.
Despite my qualms about integration into the squad and his propensity to be sent off for a reckless challenge , Jones would be a lock for the World Cup team if Bradley does decide the risks I outlined above are worth taking. The big question is are those risks worth taking?