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Jones shows promise in first USMNT start at centerback

Jermaine Jones USMNT 97

Photo by Robert Mayer/USA TODAY Sports
 

By FRANCO PANIZO

BOCA RATON, Fla. — Jermaine Jones was hesitant.

Despite playing centerback previously in his career for both Schalke and Besiktas, he was not entirely sure about doing so on the international level. U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann approached Jones with the idea, but the midfielder was uncertain about it before eventually coming around and embracing the challenge.

Jones took the first step in tackling that challenge like he would any opposing attacking player, starting and going the distance in the U.S.’s central defense for the first time in a 1-1 draw with Honduras at FAU Stadium. The World Cup veteran never looked out of place there and was arguably the top American on the field until he lost his mark, Maynor Figueroa, on an 86th-minute set piece that pulled the Hondurans level.

While that play put a dent into the outing, Jones was otherwise very sturdy next to Matt Besler. Jones was not overly tested, but he put out a few fires and held his own just as he has so many times in his natural center midfield role.

“I think this position is one of the easiest positions on the field,” said Jones. “You have experience and I think you can read the game a little bit and you’re physical – I have no problem to battle games – so that position I think it’s easier to play then when you play on No. 6.”

For Klinsmann, the move to push Jones back and experiment with him in the defense this early into the new four-year cycle is one done to try and prolong the veteran’s career. Jones has a pedigree that few other players in the U.S. pool can match, but is 32 and unlikely to make it through this World Cup cycle as a central midfielder given the number of prospects coming through the pipeline.

Klinsmann knows it would be valuable to keep Jones around for as long as possible while introducing the next generation of talent, and it is for that reason why you likely will see more of Jones at centerback in the coming months.

“We wouldn’t do it if there wasn’t a long term thought to it,” said Klinsmann. “I think it was two or two-and-a-half years ago, (defensive midfielder) Mo Edu play that role and now Mo is actually playing that role. Defensive midfielders usually, with their rate of play and their vision and their sense for it, can easily move one step back and play a centerback role.

“Obviously, it takes a little bit of time. It takes some good understanding with the other centerback, with the outside back, but Jermaine played there before. He played there a couple of times at Schalke. He played there a couple of times at Besiktas, actually, as well.

“I was not worried at all about that, but also it’s a thought seeing as he is 32. Is he now the box-to-box player for the next for years, on turf fields? I don’t know. I doubt it a little bit. That might be a better role over a longer stretch of time, so it was good for us to test that out.”

There was another thought behind the experiment. Having Jones in central defense would give the U.S. someone with the necessary leadership skills, defensive ability, and confidence on the ball to play a higher line.

Klinsmann has said since this summer’s World Cup that he wants to see the Americans play a higher defensive line that allows for the whole team to move into more advanced positions up the field. The U.S. was caught too deep at times in the tournament, and conceded a bunch of possession and chances to Germany and Belgium, respectively, before bowing out in the Round of 16.

Jones was part of the reason why the U.S. was able to execute that so effectively in the first half on Tuesday night, as the Americans dominated possession and limited the Hondurans when they had the ball. Things changed quite a bit in the final 45 minutes when Honduras threw more numbers forward and Klinsmann made a number of substitutions, but the positives were there to draw from.

“The thinking behind it was his leadership,” said Klinsmann. “We’re trying to push it kind of higher up the field, encourage them to go one against one, maybe balls drop over the back line, be loud and vocal and clean passes as well, which is one of his trademarks.

“I think he did a good job. Obviously, they had I don’t know how many set pieces, free kicks and corner kicks. That always is an option for something to happen, as it did a couple minutes before the end of the game, but I think we saw a couple of good elements there.”

Building on those elements will now likely be the case for both Jones and Klinsmann. Jones still needs continue to grow more comfortable at centerback, including on set pieces, and needs to be tested against a higher quality of opponent to see how he really measures up.

Only then can it be determined if this is an experiment worth making permanent, but Jones is up for it so as to stick around the U.S. setup for the foreseeable future.

“I know Jurgen Klinsmann now a long time and he some times have crazy ideas and he do this and he asked me and I was first a little bit like, ‘..Okay.'” said Jones, pausing to illustrate his uncertainty. “But I have no problem with that, the position is okay and maybe I have some fun in the next years.”

Comments

  1. i have to say, i was wrong with my resistant to this experiment. this is a serious option for us. he proves a new CB option who is quick, an accurate passer, pretty solid in the air, physical, and has experience for days. all the sudden the CB competition looks intense.

    “Obviously, they had I don’t know how many set pieces, free kicks and corner kicks.”

    i’m SO glad Klinsmann mentioned this. not one post-game article from US journalists mentioned this. they had 11 corner kicks!!!!!! and while i can’t find the free kick stat, i’d say they had around 5 free kicks that were within 25-30 yards of the goal. that is UNACCEPTABLE. that has to get cleaned up. i remember saying, “they’re going to punish us on one of these set pieces,” when they just kept piling up for Honduras. this was the main reason they ended with 2 more shots than the US despite having 10% less possession.

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  2. Makes no sense for the good of the USMNT or for the development of American soccer to be wasting valuable friendly minutes playing a 33-year-old midfielder at centerback. Now is the time to give our current young CBs playing time so they can improve their international game and to test young guys who play center back for their clubs. Klinsmann is doing this purely for personal reasons his love affair with future USMNT Captain JJ. MB will never make it as an attacking midfielder and JK is grooming guys like Mix to take over MB’s number six slot and then MB will have no place to go next summer when he gets bumped down by young attacking talent.

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    • These comments make no sense. As someone else pointed out above, these kind of moves happen all of the time. I for one saw more than enough last night to give this experiment a little time.

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  3. I thought Ream was ok. But it takes more than 30 minutes to evaluate a CB, a position where staying focused and concentrating for the full 90 minutes is essential. Ream has struggled with that in the past, perhaps playing in the English Championship has focused his attention on that.

    Jones did OK he made some brave tackles and the card he got was a good foul since the attacker was headed into the box with the US defense out numbered. (Where was Chandler on that play?)

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    • Chandler had just attached forward and his RM did not cover for him and the deeper CM did not slide over. so a couple of things caused Jones to be hung out to dry there.

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  4. I think it speaks to the weakness that we have at the position. Ream and Orozco aren’t that good, Besler and Cameron will be 31 and 32 in 2018 and Brooks has some issues (although he will probably get his head right by then.) I don’t think that JJ will be able to play in the WC at 36 but he might be useful as a fill in should age, cards, injury be an issue between now and 2018.

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  5. I like that JK is attempting to try Jones at CB.. Our defense was constantly pressured during the WC and were unable to pass and control the ball out of the back. Long 50/50 balls out of the back.. giving up possession.. that was our method of operation.. I just remember groaning every time we gave up possession. We need our central defenders to have that technical skill to handle the ball out of the back and freak out when they get a bit of pressure.

    I like the thought here. We have a glut of midfield players. we need to find a way to overcome our deficiencies and handle the pressure we receive in the back

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    • Why make him something he will never be? He an O.K. player as a destructive midfielder ,so let him do what he is suited for. You can read the German papers about his qualities. There is nothing that deep here.

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  6. 1-4-3-2 with Jones at sweeper. There’s a long tradition in German football of aging midfielders dropping back into the sweeper role. Don’t be surprised at all to see this.

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      • LOL! That is true as well. However, you also have to admit that Germans have occasionally done that with exception defensive minded midfielders (Lothar Mathaus, Franz Beckenbauer). Although, I wouldn’t say t is extremely common.

  7. Jones is an awesome player. I could see him playing a number of positions; outside mid, center mid, centerback, im sure he could fill in at fullback or forward if needed, for the national team going forward and doing well.

    this is going to be incredibly helpful when we are deep into tournaments/games and injuries, red cards, etc happen.

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  8. I’d rather see Jones in a pure #6 role … the role Kyle Beckerman played in the World Cup. Sit in front of the back 4 and destroy!

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  9. He was beaten on the goal, and he skirted around fouls and yellow cards in the and around the box. Was he good or lucky to not get calls against him?

    Basically, I think there is no reason to be doing this. We have a core of CBs already in the system abd guys on the horizon – we should be developing them instead of scheming to find a way to keep a 38 year old in the 2018 squad.

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    • Jones wasn’t beaten on the goal. Watch the replay again. He was marking somebody else. Nobody was marking Quioto. He actually set a pick on Jones then rolled off. JJ was essentially marking two men, but didn’t realize it.

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      • true.. and even if he was marking just Figueroa it brings up a good point that the aerial game isn’t one of Jones’ strengths. Pairing him with Brooks or Gonzalez in the absence of Besler, Ream or Ozoco, might be better if we do this again.

      • My suspicion is that one of the reasons JK is doing this is to give Brooks a CB partner he can be more comfortable with.

        I agree that aerial ability isn’t one of JJ’s strengths, but the composure on the ball and passing out of the back was sure a welcome sight last night. I personally hope the experiment is wildly successful, at the very least it pushes the other guys to be better.

      • If you want to argue that once he has more expereince at CB he makes that play, fine. But he was beaten on the goal and I think if you check most accounts of the game, they will say the same thing.

        I still think its a pointless experiment, yet another example of JK moving guys to different positions with decidedly mixed results. Jones is getting praised for the parts of his game he does alreadty as a deep mid. Where he fell down was in the things you’d expect a CB to do, like set peice defending. This is not surprising. National team coaches do not have enough time with guys to do position switches. National teams simply do not have the time to train guys – that’s the club’s job. National teams focus on tactics and game plans. It can be done but it is the exception, not the rule. Yet JK does it all the time. And while a player may make 98, 99% of the plays at a new position, it’s the 1 or 2% based on the naunces of being drilled in the position day in and day out for years that cost the team. (You could argue that Mix, playing deeper than usual, gave up a foul leading to the goal because he has a different field awareness based on playing higher up the field. Not saying that was the case, but does an expereinced holding mid try to contain that play instead? Maybe.) Even as great a player as Phillip Lam was a weak link when Germany moved him to d-mid.

      • Good point. But at this point in the cycle, and given the state of US Soccer, I think at this point we still have to give Klinsi a pass. I don’t think anyone has ever believed Klinsi’s an Xs and Os guy, that he’s some tactical genius. But shifting people around at this point, challenging veterans, challenging the national league, going out and recruiting the dual nationals, even playing head games with some to this point seems to have stirred some things up in a positive way. We seem to suddenly have unprecedented depth at positions–none of it brilliant, to be sure, but depth nonetheless–and messages about fighting for positions and developing more complete games are being sent. JK just doesn’t have the talent of a Spain or Germany to play with. He can’t just plug people in at this point. Moving people with the experience and soccer IQ of someone like Jones around, to name only the particular case at hand, makes sense in the big picture. For now.

      • Tell all that to DM Beasley. How about Sergio Ramos in the previous cycle who played CB for Real Madrid and played left back for Spain? There are obviously a lot of coaches out there who flat out disagree with you on this. Hang it up.

      • “Even as great a player as Phillip Lam was a weak link when Germany moved him to d-mid.”

        “Weak Link” huh?

        How many games did Germany lose with Lam at d-mid?

        Try going over Germany’s games the last 20 years or so and see how many times they play players in positions other than their club positions.

    • Also he’d be 36 at that point not 38. What is the problem with trying out a proven international veteran at another position in order to prolong his career? We’re 4 years out from the WC – there’s literally 0 downside to this. Try it for a few games. If it doesn’t work it doesn’t work, but if it does then we’ve got another option at CB going forward.

      It’s highly unlikely that he’ll be able to play MF 4 years from now so if he’s going to play at all, it’s time to give him a shot at CB now.

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      • Agree there is no downside. Jones will not be in the midfield in 2018 except perhaps as a substitute. It does make painfully clear the obvious, that the US has no CBs who are clearly destined to play in any of the world’s to leagues.

        Any player under the age of 25 or so should consider this a statement that a US CB spot is theirs for the taking. I think it is a statement not lost on the US Youth National team coaches who will encourage younger players with talent to play as CB.

    • First of all, I highly doubt that JJ will be starting in Russia WHEN HE IS 36 (not 38). However for tournaments before Russia, Gold Cup 15, Copa America 16, Gold Cup 17, Confederations Cup 17, he can start, force competition or set a standard for mobile, play out of the back CB that our your CBs can emulate or compete with as they develop.

      JK clearly sees the team as transitioning , but he needs to fill in the gaps during he process until some of the prospects fill in the gap. If he likes what JJ brings in, JJ will start in the next year or two and while letting other CBs know what they are missing and they have more competition for start spots.

      Lastly, if you watch the replay, the goal was not his fault. and his tackles were (repeatedly) perfectly timed. Granted, all this is against Honduras which is decent, but not elite competition.

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    • Mr. Quakeland,

      “We have a core of CBs already in the system abd guys on the horizon – we should be developing them instead of scheming to find a way to keep a 38 year old in the 2018 squad.”

      The USMNT won’t develop them.

      Their clubs will. National teams don’t develop players to that extent.

      They don’t have the time. If a CB does not carry the ball well out of the back for his club team, he won’t learn that skill while playing for the USMNT. The idea is that MLS will turn out world class center backs that the USMNT can then use.

      Of the current candidates , I’ve haven’t seen too many who I thought could get the ball out of the back as well as JJ showed last night. JJ probably passes better than just about any of them. And he certainly has just about the highest “soccer IQ” on the team.

      Maybe some of these new guys will be able to do it. But even if JJ can’t make Russia, he can show these guys how it is done, how it could work.

      If it works out really well JJ could make the Gold Cup and even the Copa America Squad. What would be your problem with doing well in those tournaments and setting a certain style and template?

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  10. Jones did well. He adds leadership, bite, soccer iq, distribution and technical skills to a weak rcb position. For those saying its crazy- Germany has done the same before. It’s not a new idea.

    Add Fabian to that backline and it’s looking pretty good.

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  11. It could work, Jones at CB, and he could challenge gonzalez, besler, brooks, ream or orozco, but it points to the USMNT’s mediocrity, at the moment. Depth but no real exceptional players. We would have to seriously overachieve to go deep in a World Cup with those guys.

    Critics of Klinsmann are right in a way, that, in doing this, he’s searching a bit. Jones can’t be a long term solution (he’s not good enough in the air, obviously). I think JK does it because he knows his players’ ceilings are lower than they should be – and a lot of our 1st team players play at the limit of their talent – for the USA to meet their now difficult expectations (Americans probably only will be happy if their team is the best in the world). So maybe Jones is, not a higher level, but a step toward that higher level, a talented leader who has to be on the field somewhere, and potentially a good pace car for this next cycle, and the kids who are still developing. Even if his game’s not perfect, his style of play can elevate others, notably young players.

    If we don’t inject new approaches, and set a higher bar, than this team will always rely on luck to reach their goals.

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    • All due respect but at the international level I see auditioning people at your position when you are not a regular starter as a critique and attempted solution that just happens to motivate, rather than the other way around. None of the CBs but maybe Besler are good enough or enough of a lock where they can view this as encouragement. I think they’re seeing if they can do better.

      Now, Jozy or Dempsey, maybe that’s motivation. But if the position is already unsettled and they try someone else, you have zip guarantees.

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      • I agree. The message being sent can only be aimed at the next generation of players, who aren’t in the team therefore aren’t losing their place as a result.

      • It is hard to argue that the US has international quality center backs. If they were better, they would be playing for better teams instead of second division clubs in europe or MLS.

        For example, while Bocanegra may have been a bit on the slow side, he did start in the EPL; I con’t think the US has any comparable talent being wooed by one of the teams in any of the world’s top leagues. It speaks to what the coaches in those leagues think about the quality of the US CBs.

      • I think or CB’s did fine this WC. It was the high priced stars on “good “teams, i.e., Pepe, Silva, Luis that disgraced themselves.

    • Wow, what JK nonsense. Jones never will be a central defender on a high level. Not smart enough, vulnerable to isolation 1 v 1. and way too old for 2018. his ball distribution is only adequate at best. His only position is a holding midfield destroyer so his deficiencies can be hidden. Please do not buy into the nonsense of experimentation. Read instead “lets try it because I have no clue.” The USMT was again disturbingly disorganized.

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      • Not smart enough and distribution is adequate at best? Have you ever watched him play? Those are two of his strengths! The dude started for a champions league caliber team for the majority of his career, and I don’t know if you know this, but those teams typically have starters with pretty decent soccer IQ’s. I love when people who have little to no knowledge of a player come here to bash them.

      • I don’t really like to be negative (for example I would say Zusi, and a few others, struggled a bit in this game), but Dr. K is, simply put, wrong.

      • Zusi is interesting because he can look like a complete amateur for most of the match and then pull off a handful of great plays.

        He forgot the positive stuff last night.

    • can’t blame him.. MLS assigned two of his best and oldest players to teams with turf fields. lets see how their knees and ankles are holding up come Gold Cup & Copa America time.

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    • Nothing subtle about it.

      He does not think MLS is the highest level of competition where a player can be tested and developed. He has said this often and quite clearly

      I take it you don’t agree?

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  12. I was impressed by how many times the back four (five really, since Rimando was a large part of the sequences) played and passed their way out of pressure when in posession deep in their half. That’s a real change in style that seems here to stay.

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    • +1 This was the real takeaway from JJ being stationed at CB. Twellman got it half right… this does potentially extend Jones’s shelf life for the nats. But what it’s really about is finding guys who can play the ball out of the back confidently with the ball at their feet, and distribute.

      This is what KILLED us against Belgium (and Ghana, even though we managed a win). It was not the absence of LD– the problem started way further back. Amazing though he is, LD scarcely would’ve made a difference. We were pinned very deep in our own end for very long stretches, mostly because our defenders (brave bad@ss dudes, don’t get me wrong) simply aren’t very good with the ball at their feet. Never have been. It’s probably a generation away.

      I like the idea, but I fret that it won’t work against better opposition. JJ is a very good player, but the Honduras goal showed why he isn’t really a CB. Though as cover, I see no problem with it.

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      • Altidore’s loss was a big factor in our ability to play out of the back. Without a strong target to worry about, opposing backlines were free to press high up the field.

        The midfield shrank considerably giving our defenders fewer options to play. We never had “safe” passes that you can usually find to relieve the pressure..

      • +1 Agree here. Jozy would’ve helped matters considerably.

        But the way Jones played vs HON was totally unlike what we see from our other CBs. Besler can’t run with the ball at his feet (and rarely tries, god bless him). Neither can Brooks. Cameron is decent on the ball but unconvincing as a CB….Omar is a slave to his own decision-making, but he can do this.

      • No, it’s a pure defensive decision. The other candidates are ably composed but immobile and/or soft/erratic on defense. We leak goals every game.

      • There is not really such thing as a purely defensive decision. If JJ does well he can start off an attack better than just about any other CB the US has.

      • Absolutely agree that we couldn’t play out of the back at the WC, or hold onto the ball anywhere on the field, but I don’t think you give enough credit to LD’s unique skill set — I’ve seen him do this more times than I can remember: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbuHYKdFMUc#t=12

        We clearly weren’t going to play possession at the WC, and we lost our only route one striker to injury — it would have been an interesting story if we had brought Mr. Counter Attack.

        I promise I’ll never mention his name again. 🙂

      • Dieter,

        Just to be clear are you saying he- who- shall- not- be- named would have been played at CB so that he could bring the ball out of the back at the World Cup?

        I don’t disagree that you- know-who-could do that but is that what you were thinking?

  13. Its a risk with no downside this early in the cycle. Jones is certainly more mobile than the others competing for those spots (who undoubtedly feel added pressure to step up now) and his passing and ball control is also superior. It remains to be seen if he can defend consistently well enough given what will probably only be limited opportunities to play the position (I doubt the Revs will use him there), but credit to Klinsmann for trying to find a way to keep one his his best players on the field for the next four years. Cautious promise.

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    • There is a bit of a risk in that if JK spends too much time with Jones at the back, and Jones falls off mid cycle and doesn’t make it to Russia, then that will be a lot of time not invested in a younger option. And it will be late in the cycle to effect a solid replacement, if Jones becomes the reliable starter for the next few years. So there is a substantial risk and Klinsmann has to be careful to keep options developing as well.

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      • Not that much… even if there’s only two years to pick a new CB that’s more than Matt Besler had last cycle. Besler’s 1st USMNT cap was a year and a half before WC. So Klinsy can easily spend a year or two testing out Jones and others without harming WC options for other CB’s.

    • The real question is not whether he can defend – I think he’s a better iso defender than about everyone but Besler — but whether he is disciplined enough. CB tends to be a position coaches want to set and forget. The reason we’re shopping is the CB defensive play has been abysmal, lessened only by aerial dominance.

      I thought that was the best US defensive line showing I’ve seen in a while, undercut by the failure of the midfield to do their part for the second straight second half.

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      • Agree here as well; not sure what Klinsmann is doing but both players seemed out of position. Why not switch them back and get them in their better spots. With so many midfielder options I”m not sure I see the upside to forcing this with Bradley and Mix.

      • Pretty sure JK wants to get the message that he is serious about needing MB to push the attack more and play safely less and for Mix to take more responsibility for the defensive part of the game (it would not hurt for Mix to bulk up a bit so he won more 50-50 balls for example).

      • If you watched the game they interchanged quite a lot .

        Mikey and Mix are adults and professional athletes.

        Both speak English reasonably well.

        Maybe JK wants these two grown men to figure out how to work together and cover for each other?.

        That is what these exhibition games are for, glorified practice sessions, where you can make mistakes without losing too much.

      • I agree. However, the problem with Bradley is if you put him as a Dmid he tends to go forward whenever he wants, so you need to partner him with another Dmid that will stay back and cover.

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