The arc of Jermaine Jones' international career is unlike anything we've ever seen before. In just seven years he's gone from a relatively unknown player to supporters' scapegoat all the way to one of the team's most important leaders. The 34-year-old has seen his United States Men's National Team stock fluctuate more than possibly any other player in our country's history in such a short span of time.
When the German-American first filed his one-time switch with FIFA in 2009 to become a member of the USMNT there was a narrative that he was a dirty player. One that would go in for nasty tackles with no regard for his opponent or consequences.
Jermaine is an eccentric personality, one that exists outside the box of what we perceive a USMNT player to be. He's unpredictable, on and off the field.
In his last six seasons in the Bundesliga with Schalke, Jones accumulated six red cards. That's one a season and a pretty unflattering pattern to lay for yourself. During the 2012 season, after he'd already become a part of the U.S. national team setup, he was suspended for eight weeks for intentionally stomping on Marco Reus' already injured foot. A member of the German media even went as far as to label him "The dirtiest player in German soccer." Not just the Bundesliga, all of German soccer.
During his international career, nothing could be further from the truth. Does he go in hard on tackles? Absolutely. But that's just the type of midfielder he is. A player that will not hesitate to let you know he's on the field and one that will make it incredibly difficult for you in any game you play against him. He's constantly in motion and battling with the opposing team's best players. Sometimes it gets him in trouble. And yet, despite his reputation, Jones has never received a red card while playing for the USMNT.
It's not been all sunshine and rainbows for him at the international level, however. In his earlier years with the team he'd disappear in games and fail to inspire much confidence about his love for the team. Supporters of the team were so vocal about their displeasure with him that it sparked articles asking why people hate him.
I'd probably put myself among that crowd at certain points in the past. He looked disinterested and completely ambiguous to the success or failure of the national team. But something has changed in the last few years for Jones. Something clicked inside him to become the player he is today. Perhaps it was the hunger to get to play in a World Cup before his career came to an end, but whatever it was, it made him one of the Americans' most indispensable players.
The 2014 World Cup portrays this perfectly. He committed 100 percent of his energy and attention to the team and the results showed it. While his work rate and desire was the most impressive thing about him in the World Cup, his performances were phenomenal as well.
He was arguably the best player on the field for all four of the group games. His crucial wonder strike against Portugal in the second group game played a huge part in helping the USMNT escape a seemingly insurmountable group. He left every single ounce of energy on the field after every game. You'd think playing next to a player like Michael Bradley, who never stops running, would be intimidating, but Jones kept up with his midfield partner throughout the tournament.
A year later, in the CONCACAF Cup failure against Mexico, Jones played 120 minutes while not fully fit and again gave it everything he had. He never stopped running until the final whistle blew. Even in extra time with players around him succumbing to fatigue, he was making 80 yard runs to thwart the opponents attack and then sprinting back up the field to rejoin the attack.
This is the player that he's become and the one that I've come to greatly appreciate. He's come a long ways from his poor reputation and being ridiculed by his own nation's supporters.
Jones has his faults as a soccer player. He's temperamental and sometimes makes poor decisions. Whether your frustrations with him come from something he's done with the national team in the past or at the club level, it's understandable. However, the willingness commit everything he possibly has for our nation he's shown over the last few years, should be enough for him to be remembered as a great U.S. national team player and one that should be looked at in a positive light once he hangs up his cleats. If the USA play a must-win game tomorrow, I want Jermaine Jones on the field representing our nation when it matters most.