Photo by Max Becherer/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
LAKEWOOD RANCH, Fla. – Prior to November, the last time Jared Jeffrey suited up for a U.S. youth national team was in 2009, and much has changed for him since then.
Since representing the United States at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup three summers ago, Jeffrey has switched clubs, learned a new language and overcome the nagging hip injury that put him on the shelf for much of last season.
Now healthy and regularly playing for Mainz 05's reserve team, Jeffrey is attempting to make the the U.S. team that will attempt to qualify for the Olympics.
"Last season was a little rough. I was injured for almost the whole season," said Jeffrey. "But this year I've been coming back and playing a lot of games with the reserves and getting my fitness back and it's been a lot of fun. I've enjoyed it, and I speak pretty good German now so I'm kind of culturally adept to living there."
The 21-year old Jeffrey has yet to make an appearance for Mainz's full team since signing with the club in January, 2010. What he has done, however, is recover from a demoralizing hip injury that lasted longer than intitially expected.
That has translated to a call-up from U.S. U-23 head coach Caleb Porter, who is looking to round out his roster for the qualification process for the Olympic games in March.
Like his peers, Jeffrey has received frequent instructions in training on how to play in the Porter's 4-3-3 system, one that focuses on high pressure and possession.
That feedback is something Jeffrey doesn't get a ton of while plying his trade in Germany.
"It's a little different," said Jeffrey. "I talk to the coaches some, but really the focus is just getting back and playing a lot of games, as many as possible."
Whether he breaks into Mainz's first team by season's end remains to be seen, though it seems unlikely unless the club's current status in the Bundesliga changes. Near the midway point of the season, Mainz is battling relegation.
"We're struggling a little bit right now in the league," said Jeffrey. "We're 14th, 13th, somewhere in there, so there's a lot of pressure in the second half, and hopefully we stay in the Bundesliga."
As to whether he's looking for a move or loan elsewhere once the winter transfer window opens, Jeffrey remains coy, stating he'd rather concentrate on the task at hand.
"(A loan is) something that's … I'm not sure really," said Jeffrey. "It's still kind of early, and right now my focus is getting into the Olympic team and helping the team qualify, so we'll see."
While his prospects for playing time remain unclear on the club level, Jeffrey has done well in the current U.S. Under-23 national team camp. He has looked sharp in central midfield, showing the passing touch and work rate to excel in Porter's 4-3-3 formation.
"He really wants to dominate the game," Jeffrey said of Porter. "It's really about maintaining possession, keeping the ball a lot, and as soon as we lose it, turning over real quick, pressing high, really going after and trying to win the game more than trying not to lose. Dominating soccer is kind of one of the key phrases."
The the competition for roster spots in central midfield is fierce, Jeffrey will have every chance to be one of the chosen few who help the United States qualify for the Olympics. If he remains healthy and further develops with Mainz, Jeffrey stands as a good chance as any to do just that.