Photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Jermaine Jones walked through the mixed zone at Crew Stadium looking like the most patriotic player on the U.S. Men’s National Team. Jones was holding a United States stick flag over his right shoulder and his neck was decorated with one of the scarves U.S. Soccer distributed prior to Tuesday night’s World Cup qualifier vs. Mexico.
He was clearly proud to be an American, especially after helping his team qualify for the 2014 World Cup.
For Jones, Tuesday night’s 2-0 victory over arch-rival Mexico was one of the sweetest moments he has had since making the decision to switch allegiances from Germany to the U.S. in 2010. Jones not only bounced back from a subpar showing in last week’s loss to Costa Rica by delivering an impressive outing in a U.S. midfield that was missing Michael Bradley, but the 31-year-old veteran also took another step towards reaching his goal of playing in a World Cup.
“I switched from Germany to America and a lot of pressure was on my situation,” said Jones, who was handed more offensive responsibilities than usual on Tuesday. “I’m half American and half German and I love both countries. My mom is German, my dad is American and I’m proud to help the team to come to the World Cup.
“It was always first in my head, that it’s my first World Cup and my last chance maybe to come to a World Cup. I’m not the youngest one (anymore), so I was trying to be focused every game and in this game today.”
Jones has been a lightning rod for criticism since playing in his first U.S. game in September 2010. Part of that is because he has in fact struggled in his fair share of matches, but part of it is also down to him playing a position that is not very glorious due to all the defensive responsibilities that it requires.
Michael Bradley, Kyle Beckerman and Danny Williams have all endured similar criticisms over the years when playing in comparable defensive roles, but that does not take away from the value that their American teammates and U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann have for them. Jones is no different.
“He’s been amazing. He showed why he’s playing in Champions League today,” said DaMarcus Beasley. “Today, he’s fighting. The ball he played, he was very simple. We told him, against (Costa Rica) he was kind of forcing it a little bit, trying to make the game. But we told him, ‘Let the game come to you.’
“He did that today, he played amazing, breaking up plays, keeping the ball when we needed to when everybody was tired. We’re lucky to have him on our team. We’re lucky to have him.”
The Americans were also lucky that Honduras drew Panama, 2-2, on Tuesday night, a result that helped the U.S. assure its place in next summer’s World Cup and one that came following its win over Mexico.
The U.S. players and staff watched that Honduras-Panama match from inside their locker room at Crew Stadium, and the wild finish to the game in San Pedro Sula made for some nervy moments for the Americans, especially with Panama scoring an equalizer in the 90th minute.
“We was watching the game and we was a little bit shaking when Panama make the late goal, but it’s a good result for us,” said Jones. “We played a good qualification and so it’s normal that we go to Brazil.”
Now, Jones’ focus is on continuing to solidify his spot in the U.S. lineup ahead of next summer’s World Cup, as that tournament will serve as the culmination of this grueling World Cup qualification campaign for Jones and also his decision to play for the United States.
“For me, it was a lot of pressure when I switched,” said Jones. “All the people, they look and know, ‘He plays in a big team in Germany.’ For this game, it was important for me, too.
“I needed to be focused, I know with a win and Honduras tie or a win, that we can go to a World Cup. I try everything to help the team in this time.”