Colorado Rapids and the fans of the 2010 champions are hoping for another run of success in the Major League Soccer (MLS). The hopes are closely linked to a well-known name in Germany – Jermaine Jones. The Frankfurt-born player, who enjoyed his best years in the Bundesliga at FC Schalke 04, has led the team from the Rocky Mountains to the top of the MLS. Now 34 and enjoying his umpteenth revival, he was capped for Germany and the USA national team for whom he played at the 2014 World Cup. Now it was a case of “Welcome to the Rockies” and he promptly made a fantastic debut for the team from Denver when scoring the first and laying on the winning goal for Dominique Badji in the 2-1 defeat of New York Red Bulls on 16 April.
“He’s become very important for us as he gives our game excellent impulses,” said Rapids’ coach Pablo Mastroeni when praising the midfielder. The coach has handed Jones a new role as the defensive midfielder has been turned into an idea-giving “number 10” that is very dangerous himself in front of goal. Jones’ performances speak for themselves. Colorado has posted four wins and two draws since he became a regular in Rapids’ starting eleven. He chipped in with three valuable goals in the wins against the Red Bulls, Seattle Sounders – he scored the opening goal in the 3-1 victory – and against Salt Lake Earthquake when scoring the all-important goal to give the Rapids a memorable win (1-0) against the local rivals. The duels between Salt Lake and Colorado count towards the Rocky Mountains Cup, a special competition involving the two teams that is embedded in the MLS.
Even though he did not score himself, Jones still put on an impressive display when providing an assist in the 2-2 draw at Montreal Impact whose side includes superstar Didier Drogba. The 1-0 win against Kansas City followed a 1-1 draw at MLS runners-up Columbus Crew. Having gone seven games undefeated (5 wins, 2 draws), Colorado currently top the strong Western Conference table.
Jones’ MLS career actually appeared to have come off the rails in March after he was not offered a new contract by New England Revolution one year after finishing MLS runners-up. It took a while for him to sign for the Rapids and the club only presented him to the fans in the first week in March. He though has quickly become a crowd favourite in Commerce City, a suburb of Denver where the Rapids’ stadium is located. For the first time since 2008, the club and Jones, who had a reputation in Germany for being an enfant terrible, have topped the Western Conference in May and at the same time head the overall Supporter’s Shield standings. “When Jermaine came and joined us for four or five weeks in training, what I recognized in him was his ability to maintain possession of the ball, to find a creative pass, to battle out of those higher positions and defend out of those higher positions. I felt like he played that position really well,” said coach Mastroeni when explaining the reasoning behind his decision to use Jones in a pivotal midfield role. The former Schalke player, a battler by nature, has kept his old attitude and is giving his all in the new position.
"Pablo and I talked about my new role and we said we want to get more power in front. I feel like with my position and my personality, it gives other teams problems, too,” said Jones and praised the 39-year old coach who was the “main key” to him moving to Colorado. At the beginning of his career in Frankfurt, he played far more offensively than later in his club sides and in the German and USA national teams. “Most of the coaches said ‘Let’s push him back. He’s physical and he’s strong. I’ve always said I like to attack. I did it at the World Cup. We pushed forward and I enjoyed it and I’m enjoying it right now too.” Jones has kept his physical style going forward and his popularity is still of no concern to him. ““When you know people hate you, you get respect from that. If you walk into the stadium and fans don’t like you, you know that they think you’re a good player,” said Jones when talking to American sports reporters. One wrote afterwards, “Either one dies as a hero or lives long enough to be a villain. Colorado Rapids have found both in Jermaine Jones.”
Rapid’s coach Mastroeni even admitted that the gruff, almost bad-tempered manner of his new playmaker and team leader had impressed him saying, “Any time you are going up against a guy like Jermaine, you know every ball is going to be contested and he’s going to play some hard tackles.” In former times Rapids’ team lacked a player of his kind. “As we started to figure out Jones was our guy, it made more and more sense. A guy like this would be great for our young players, he would make the players around him better and lead by example. He was highly motivated and wants to win every match,” said Rapid’s Technical Director Paul Bravo.
Jones arrived carrying a heavy burden from the previous season. After being refused a penalty for hand ball, the captain of New England Revolution first confronted and then pushed referee Mark Geiger. Jones was red carded. The incident happened in added time of the knock out match against D.C. United for a place in the play-off quarterfinal. New England lost 2-1 and duly failed to advance. The six-match ban was carried over into the new season and Jones was also fined an unknown amount. The suspension became an obstacle in finding a new club – that is until the Rapids decided to pounce and sign Jones. Now both are profiting from the partnership.