When Jermaine Jones declared six months ago that he wanted to play for the United States, American soccer fans had ever reason to be excited.
Jones was a highly-respected midfielder in the German Bundesliga and seemed like a perfect fit to slide into central midfield alongside Michael Bradley. It all made too much sense and seemed destined to happen sooner rather than later. At least before Jones' leg started to hurt.
Jones underwent surgery last summer for a hairline leg fracture, only the surgery to repair it made things worse. After having a metal plate removed from his leg, another surgery was supposed to resolve the pain issue Jones was dealing with. He returned to training with Schalke 04 last week only to have pain in the leg bother him again, thus cutting short his return.
Now, Jones is looking at a January return at the earliest, and we are suddenly faced with questions about whether he will have a chance to play for the United States at any point before U.S. coach Bob Bradley must name his 23-man World Cup roster.
As it stands, the only chance for Jones to make a U.S. debut would be March 3rd, when the United States is supposed to face the Netherlands, but given all his trouble recovering, will two months be enough time for him to get back in shape, establish himself as a player for Schalke again AND play himself into position for a U.S. national team start? And if he cannot return in time to play on March 3rd, will Bradley still consider him for a World Cup roster spot without him actually having played in any matches?
That might sound like a crazy proposition, but the reality is that Jones is that good. He is dominant defensive midfielder who could start for the United States if he could get back to the form that he enjoyed a year ago for Schalke. The only problem is that he needs to overcome this leg injury if he is going to have a serious chance to be on the World Cup team.
The U.S. team has other central midfield options to go along with Michael Bradley, including Benny Feilhaber, Ricardo Clark, Jose Francisco Torres and Maurice Edu when Edu makes his own complete recovery from knee surgery. While those are intriguing options, no player has stepped up to stake a serious claim to a position that seemed destined to be Jones before this myriad of injury issues.
At this point it isn't as if Bob Bradley is sitting around and waiting for Jones. He will continue to play his other options and see if any of them will step up. Feilhaber has shown signs of progress as a starter, while Edu will be an intriguing candidate once he returns to action for Glasgow Rangers. Clark looked to have a hold on the position after his impressive Confederations Cup showing, but he saw his performances fade in the fall.
That competition will have to go on without Jones for the foreseeable future. For now, all Jones and U.S. fans and coaches can do is wait and hope that Jones recovers so that he can at the very least have a chance to show that he is as good as advertised and was worth this lengthy wait.