During the first World Cup that Jermaine Jones was eligible to play for the United States, he was injured. It was a setback for the then 28-year-old, and fans wondered if his national team career was mostly over before it got started. He'd be 32 by the time the next World Cup rolled around, which is usually right on the edge between 'too old' and 'last hurrah' in the World Cup for anyone who isn't a true superstar.
Not only was Jones ready for the 2014 World Cup, but he was the United States' most important midfielder. Jones was one of the first names on the team sheet for Jurgen Klinsmann by the time the tournament rolled around and he would have been the USMNT's best field player at the tournament even without that goal.
But, yeah, there was that goal.
Up until this point, the United States were hanging with Portugal, playing well in every phase of the game, but struggling to find the back of the net. After this goal, they started playing with even more confidence and found another.
In the Americans' poor performances, against Germany and Belgium, he was one of the lone bright spots. His work rate in midfield and ability to both win the ball and keep the ball in important spots was what kept the U.S. in both of those games, when they should have been trailing by multiple goals from early on in the match.
The award criteria also doesn't specify that it's specifically for national team performances. And even though Jones hasn't achieved quite as much at club level as the likes of Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey, what he's done for the New England Revolution in his short time there is nothing short of spectacular. The team is 10-1-1 since his arrival, and their one loss was in a game he missed. Before Jones' arrival, the Revs were a fringe playoff team. Now, they're favorites to beat the New York Red Bulls and represent the Eastern Conference in the MLS Cup Final.
Jones combined tireless dirty work with a spectacular goal in the World Cup, and he's made a bigger post-World Cup impact on his club team than anyone else vying for the Athlete of the Year award. He deserves it.