Jurgen Klinsmann has always had a close attachment to Jermaine Jones. Whether it was because he was one of the first high-profile German dual nationals to come play for the United States in this squad or he positionally was key to Klinsmann’s ideal formation, the German-American coach has always stood up for the midfielder even when soccer writers (myself included) criticized Jones’ play and exaggerated his yellow card record.
In the United States 2-1 win over Ghana, Klinsmann was vindicated. On a night where alleged talisman Michael Bradley played maybe his worst game in a U.S. shirt, and the Yanks seemed to be barely hanging on at every turn, Jones not only was a stalwart defensively but did so out of his normal position on the field.
The United States came out in a 4-1-2-1-2/4-4-2 diamond midfield, but when Jozy Altidore pulled up with an injury halfway through the first half, that midfield became even straighter in the U.S. half. Not surprisingly Kyle Beckerman dropped back to provide cover for the inexperienced duo of Cameron and Besler (and then Brooks). However, Klinsmann also decided that he would drop Michael Bradley further back as well, to serve at best as a deep-lying playmaker but practically as a disrupter. Without Bradley’s skill further up the pitch, the U.S. became bogged down and reactive to a buzzing Ghana.
Jones was deployed to the left of the midfield and, looking at the heat map, that was primarily where he remained most of the game. Why did Klinsmann choose to place him here instead of where Bradley was? First, Jones on the left would allow him to help mark Daniel Opare and Christian Atsu while DaMarcus Beasley could roam forward, but quickly Jones himself became an offensive threat as he provided the key pass to Clint Dempsey, which Dempsey turned into a goal mere seconds after the first whistle.
Although his final stats are far from gaudy, Jones held down that side defensively and posed enough of a threat going forward that the Ghana right flank was stunted in the attack during the match. Most of the Ghana threat (and their only goal) came from their left.
Jones and Beasley tilted the field and while that was almost enough for Ghana to escape with points, Jermaine Jones play in general was the most consistent of any player on the pitch. Whether it was breaking up attacks, tracking back to defend, trying to provide that incisive pass to the forwards, or even putting his own shot on net, he rewarded Klinsmann’s faith in him by playing out of his (U.S. national team) position and showing that he is flexible enough for Klinsmann to expert with his formation. If Altidore and Besler are out of the next game, this will be critical for the U.S.
If Jones had remained in his usual position in the middle, the American attack would have been even more anemic for most of this match plus the left side would have been problematic for the defense.