Perhaps the biggest break out star for the USA coming out of the 2014 World Cup was Jermaine Jones. The German-American midfielder played exceptionally well in Brazil and overnight became one of the more popular soccer stars in America. Jones capitalized on his World Cup performance and new found popularity by signing a multi-million dollar contract with the New England Revolution of MLS. Now a bonafide star in MLS and a highly recognized face of the US Men’s National team, is Jermaine Jones on the verge of being phased out of the US squad before the 2018 World Cup? I think after October’s friendly with Honduras in Baca Raton Florida, the answer might very well be “yes”.
Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann started Jones, normally a midfielder, at right center back for the contest and Jones handled the transition remarkably well. The intended hope of making the switch is to open up more opportunities for the younger midfielders, such as Mix Diskerud, while also shoring up the somewhat unstable backline with a veteran presence. By all accounts the move was a success. Diskerud was more assertive on the ball in the offensive third while also being more engaged through the midfield and Jones displayed an excellent awareness for the position.
The problem that I see with the move is that Jones will be 36 by the time the World Cup comes to Russia in 2018 and may already be a long shot to make the squad. The New England Revolution depend on Jones in the midfield, making a switch to the backline at the club level incredibly unlikely. Klinsmann has shown a pattern of selecting players whose role on at their clubs support his plans for them on the international level.
From calling out Clint Dempsey’s lack of appearances in Champions League play to his encouraging club transfers for Brek Shea to England or Maurice Edu back to MLS, Klinsmann is notoriously pushing players to use their club experience to prepare for US call-ups. So where will that leave Jones if over the next couple of years Klinsmann wants him on the backline but New England needs him in midfield?
By giving up his spot in the US midfield now, Jones allows Klinsmann ample opportunity to find a replacement for him. Mix Diskerud is emerging for the US squad and a position switch for DeAndre Yedlin from right back to the midfield is all but guaranteed to happen in the next year. Plus, there is still Michael Bradley to consider.
While Bradley did not have a stellar season for Toronto FC, it is more likely than not that he will maintain the form needed to keep his spot on the US roster. Real Salt Lake’s Luis Gil is also an emerging star that will certainly garner attention in the lead up to Russia 2018. Suddenly the midfield is getting very crowded.
A move back to the middle may not be possible for Jones. If playing center back becomes his only real chance of making another world cup squad, what kind of chance is that really?
The backline is inexperienced but not without talent. Matt Besler, Timmy Chandler, Omar Gonzalez, Michael Orozco, Tim Ream, Greg Garza, AJ De La Garza, and Geoff Cameron are all younger than Jones and each of them will be competing for a place on the World Cup roster. There is also Fabian Johnson to consider. Johnson has already shown an ability to play both midfield and defensive back. At 26, Johnson is capable of blocking Jones’ roster spot at both positions.
If the purpose of having Jones on the backline is to raise the level of play, by implication it would mean an improvement in the play of others as well. Therefore, if he is successful and does improve the quality of play of the rest of the defenders, will he play himself out of roster spot for the World Cup?
Jones, of course, is not the only one facing the prospect of aging out of roster spot. Kyle Beckerman made his first World Cup roster this past year at the age of 32. Although Beckerman played well, it is unlikely that he fits into Klinsmann’s future plans. With Landon Donovan retiring and DeMarcus Beasley, Tim Howard, and Clint Dempsey also encroaching on retirement age, it is very likely that many of biggest names in USA soccer will be absent from the next World Cup. It would seem almost a shame the breakout star from the previous World Cup would be absent as well.
However counter-intuitive as it may seem, it is quite possible that Jones’ superb play will be his downfall. Obviously, when it comes to the national team, Jones would not want to be selfish and switching positions will certainly be a benefit to the squad but leaving his natural position open for the emerging stars of the midfield while improving the quality of play of the younger defenders may just result in Jones becoming replaceable at two positions.
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