DeJuan Jones doesn’t have a common backstory among MLS draft candidates.
The Michigan State winger didn’t take the traditional route to the pros that most prospective pro soccer players do. He didn’t join a U.S. Development Academy team, despite interest from a couple near him. but Jones didn’t want to leave his home in Lansing, Michigan.
“My club team, I started playing with them in eighth grade and I just didn’t want to leave those guys,” Jones told SBI. “I was a key piece of that team, just to leave them, that would have been a tough decision.”
Instead, Jones decided to remain with the club team he had played with since middle school while playing for East Lansing High School. Both were profitable ventures for him, especially the choice to play for his school. He led the East Lansing Trojans to back-to-back state championships while being named Michigan’s Mr. Soccer and Gatorade Player of the Year in his senior season.
“We had a special team,” he said about his high school experience. “My sophomore year we got knocked out in the elite eight. We probably should have won it all that year. Then to win it all back-to-back my junior and senior year and get the accolades like Mr. Soccer, Gatorade Player of the Year for the state was pretty special.”
That route didn’t stop colleges from recruiting him early on in his high school career. Michigan State started the process as early as they could and he never had a second thought about where he was going to go to school. Once again, it was an excellent decision. He scored five goals and tallied five assists in his senior year in 2018 while leading the Spartans to their first College Cup appearance since 1968.
As a player, Jones is one of the fastest the MLS Draft has ever seen. He ran a 3.82 second 30-meter dash, the fastest at the combine since 2015. He was the only player to finish in the top ten in all three performance tests. He ran the top time of the 5-10-5 shuttle run and had a vertical leap of 35 inches, good for third overall.
Those skills can translate well to a high pace attacking position, such as the wing he played during his career at Michigan State. But Jones feels like he can do just about anything on the attacking side of the game.
“I think I’m pretty versatile, so left wing, right wing,” Jones said. “I play right wing primarily, but left wing is fine too because I can cut in with my right foot. I feel comfortable with both feet, which is a good quality of mine. Crossing, shooting, it doesn’t really matter.”
“Left side, great I can cut in and curl it, and then right side, still I can cut in, curl it with my left foot or beat the defender down the line, right foot shot or right foot cross. So either/or is fine and then maybe like a second striker.”
Some teams have also spoke with him about falling into an outside back position to take advantage of his speed in more areas of the field. He didn’t play defense in college, but it’s another thing he feels like he can do.
“My defending is pretty good. I’ll have to learn things like positioning, obviously,” he said, though he stopped short of selling himself as a defensive prospect. He wants to provide the best possible impact to whichever team drafts him, and he knows that would only happen near the front of the formation.
“I think I would be underutilized with my abilities as an attacker if I was playing outside back,” he said.
Jones’s successful college career with both Michigan State and the two summers he spent with Lansing United of the PDL made him sure that he was ready to become a pro soccer player. He scored twice in a May contest against the three-time PDL champion Michigan Bucks put him on the map. The performance got him talking about one day playing in MLS, and now he’s ready to make that dream a reality.