617114_isi_jonesjermaine_usmnt061614140 John Todd/isiphotos.com
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Jermaine Jones Took Over In the U.S. Win Over Ghana

Brooke Tunstall, a seasoned journalist who has analyzed a few soccer matches in his day, pays tribute to Jermaine Jones' Herculean effort in the United States' 2-1 victory over Ghana.
BY Brooke Tunstall Posted
June 17, 2014
3:24 PM
MAYBE IT TOOK the biggest stage of his career for Jermaine Jones to give the United States a performance worthy of his considerable pedigree.

Cometh the hour, as the Brits like to say, cometh the man. Well, the hour came for Jones against Ghana and he showed just what a man he is. The Germany born-and-raised son of an American armed service member turned in a Man Of the Match performance to help the U.S. come away with three vital points in its World Cup opener in steamy Natal, Brazil.

Literally from the opening whistle Jones was vital to the U.S. victory. His simple but smart and well-placed pass to Clint Dempsey set up the surprise go-ahead goal 30 seconds into the game. From there, he took to doing the grunt work on defense, often on the U.S. left flank, to help fullback DaMarcus Beasley neutralize Ghana’s speedy attack on that side.

That Jones played so well in such a crucial match on such a big stage shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, this is a player who was once good enough to earn three caps for Germany in friendlies before switching his allegiance to his father’s homeland in 2009. A player good enough to start regularly for Schalke in the UEFA Champions League and help keep it among the top tier of the Bundesliga.

But since debuting for the U.S. shortly after the 2010 World Cup—an injury kept him from competing for a spot in South Africa four years ago—Jones has turned in a maddening series of performances for the national team. That’s not to suggest there haven’t been good moments; there have been. Jones is strong in the tackle, reads the game as well as any American player ever, and is an underrated passer.

But for all that, often his performances for the U.S. were most notable for unneeded hard tackles and the yellow cards that followed. And, let’s politely call it over-ambitious forays into the offensive third that often disrupted the U.S.’s shape and left the team exposed defensively. Worse, at times he struggled to get in harmony with Michael Bradley, usually the team’s most creative two-way player.

With Jones' poorly timed forward runs it was usually left to Bradley to drop deeper defensively, thus limiting his effectiveness—something that was magnified when Bradley shined after Jones was replaced in midfield by Kyle Beckerman or Geoff Cameron.

Still, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann never wavered in his belief in Jones. Maybe it’s a German thing. Maybe it’s the Champions League experience so few U.S. players have but which Klinsmann values. Perhaps he knows that at 32, this is both Jones first, and likely last, World Cup (not many 36-year-old holding midfielders get chosen for World Cups). It's his last best chance to play in this event, and it's part of the reason why Jones switched national teams: he knew he could make an impact with the Americans.

Jones justified Klinsmann’s faith Monday. With the U.S. ceding possession for most of the night and Bradley having a rare but poorly timed off night, it was Jones who was the midfield’s rock and Jones who stayed tactically disciplined as the midfield kept its shape.

With Kyle Beckerman’s recent insertion into the lineup in front of the back four, Jones was shifted to a wider role on the left, though it would be misleading to imply he lined up Monday as a flank midfielder. He still spent plenty of time tucked into the middle, but often, especially when Ghana pressed forward, found himself near the touchline.

With the U.S. backs often under pressure, Jones served as a needed outlet to ease the tension and when Ghana’s speedy right back Daniel Opare from F.C. Porto tried to jump into the attack, it was usually Jones who shut him down. Despite attacking almost exclusively down the right wing in the first half with Opare and Chelsea’s Christian Atsu, Ghana had nothing to show for it, in large part because Jones and Beasley were so well positioned and applied the right amount of pressure.

Rarely was it spectacular; just smart, sound soccer one would expect from a Champions League player in his early 30s.

Jones even did well to keep his infamous temper in check after he was tackled hard and late by Sulley Muntari just before intermission. Jones’ legs ended up on top of Muntari’s noggin and Muntari lashed out while Jones stayed cool as referee Jonas Eriksson sorted out the mess. Hard to imagine the Jones of two years ago emerging from such a scenario un-cautioned.

Yes, he's up for the World Cup. He's having a blast and he is complete control.

The U.S. didn’t have nearly enough of the ball against Ghana but when it did Jones drew several fouls, which, besides creating set-piece chances, gave the U.S. a vital chance to catch its breath. Again, little, but important, things.

Jones also seemed to get stronger as the game wore on. In the 50th minute, he made a nice tackle on Opare to break up a counter. In the 63rd minute he won a loose ball at the edge of the U.S. offensive third and unleashed a 25-yard shot that was one of the few times the Americans tested goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey.

In the 71st minute Jones made his most important defensive play. After the Ghanaians began a stretch of possession in the U.S. third that lasted over a minute and had the U.S. on its heels and rapidly losing its defensive shape, Jones tracked back to the end line to dispossess Opare and win a critical goal kick.

High-pressure situation defused.

In the 78th minute Jones won a tackle that led to a rare U.S. counterattack, and in the 90th, after the U.S. had regained the lead and was again milking the clock, Jones won another 50-50 ball in midfield and promptly drew a foul that allowed 30 seconds or so to tick away. So it somehow seemed only appropriate that when Eriksson finally blew his whistle, it was with the ball on Jones’ foot as he dribbled toward the left corner flag.

Jones was by no means the game’s only defensive hero. Fellow dread Beckerman broke up myriad plays, Cameron anchored a central defense that was often under siege but rarely gave up good scoring chances, and Beasley used the guile that comes from four World Cups to help Jones negate the flanks.

They’ll likely need to be just as good, if not better, against a wounded and angry but still very talented Portuguese side on Sunday. But if Jones is as efficient and disciplined as he was against Ghana, you have to like the U.S.' chances.

Brooke Tunstall is a veteran journalist who has covered Major League Soccer since its initial player dispersal draft. You can follow him on Twitter.

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