photo by Brad Smith/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
WASHINGTON D.C. – Even before Jermaine Jones officially joined the U.S. men's national team, much was expected of him. An upgrade in technical ability, an enforcer, a never-ending motor, and nastiness that few in the pool could lay claim to were just some of the things Jones was expected to bring to the table.
Jones hasn't always been able to combine those well since making his U.S. debut in October of last year, but on Sunday night at RFK Stadium he brought all of that. And then some.
Playing in his ninth game for the U.S. team, Jones put forth his most complete performance for head coach Bob Bradley in a 2-0 quarterfinals victory over undefeated Jamaica. That Jones scored his first ever goal in a U.S. jersey, the first of the two American tallies, was just an added benefit in a dominating display from a player that is still adapting to his new surroundings on the international stage.
"We've seen in recent games that the understanding in the center of the field with Jermaine and Michael (Bradley) has been good," said Bob Bradley. "In different moments you see each one on the move, the other one thinking about cover.
"This way also plays into, on certain days, when we're starting to play out of the back, who is getting the ball deeper and that kind of thing. Certainly, Jermaine has a good engine and has the ability in certain moments to get forward and be a threat and that was nice to see."
Along with helping stymie a Jamaican side full of world class pace with timely tackles, Jones had two standout offensive moments where he got forward well, and both ended up being vital parts in the game.
In the 49th minute, after Jermaine Taylor headed a ball out of the penalty area, Jones raced onto the ball and hit a volley that deflected off of Taylor and into the back of the net. The goal sent Jones and the Americans into a frenzy, and Jones celebrated the goal with a salute.
The second time came 18 minutes later when Jones raced onto a loose ball near midfield, kicked it into high gear and looked to be free on goal before Taylor nipped him from behind, earning the Jamaican defender a red card. Jones clearly embelished the foul but there was contact, and Taylor's ejection gave the Americans a man-advantage that helped Clint Dempsey score an 80th-minute insurance goal.
Those two plays by Jones, combined with the rest of his strong showing, earned him Man of the Match as voted on by media members in attendance, meaning Jones would have to, by rule, talk to the media following the game. It was one of – if not the – first times Jones spoke to the media during this past month, as he has turned down interview requests unless they're conducted in German or with a translator.
"The first time you score with the national team is always special," said Jones about his goal through Steve Cherundolo, who translated Jones' response from German to English. "Most of all it was a very important goal for us tonight."
As strong as Jones' game was on Sunday, it wasn't flawless. On one instance in the first half, Jones missed a would-be goal as he slipped when anxiously trying to knock in a rebound from close range, resulting in the ball hitting off his knee and rolling out of bounds. The other was when his temperament got the best of him; he drew a yellow card for an unneccesary frustration foul in the Reggae Boyz's own half with the Jamaican attacker facing away from goal.
Jones will have to be wary in the semifinals not to pick up another card or he'll miss the final, assuming the United States gets that far.
But that fearlessness is part of what Jones' teammates like about him.
"He's one of the midfielders that's not afraid to lose the ball and take chances," said Juan Agudelo, who shares the common theme of relative newcomer to the U.S. team with Jones despite the age difference between them. "On long balls he's always looking forward and that's great as a forward because some midfielders lack looking forward and taking chances on through balls. I really enjoy playing with him."
That's probably the case for the rest of the U.S. team as well, especially after he produced his most complete performance to date on Sunday.