COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (AP) Jermaine Jones kept his mind off soccer by playing baseball with his kids and taking them snowboarding.
There was little else to do as the 34-year-old midfielder waited for a team to call – Colorado finally acquired him – and waited some more as he served a six-game ban for touching a referee during a playoff game last season while with New England.
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He made his long-awaited Rapids debut last Saturday and instantly showed that, contrary to some of his critics, he hasn’t lost a step by scoring a goal and setting up the game-winner in a 2-1 win over the New York Red Bulls.
A memorable start. The U.S. national team standout, however, has much broader ambitions: Leading the Rapids to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
“If you go to Colorado and change something, it’s, `This guy and this team is good,”‘ said Jones, whose squad is 4-2-1 and in third place in the Western Conference. “If you change it, then people will say, `Wait a minute there, has to be something with him, too.”
Jones has heard it all of late – washed up, past his prime. The criticism follows a season in which he had no goals and no assists in 18 games with the Revolution. But there were mitigating circumstances.
Namely, he had two surgeries to repair sports hernias.
“I was injured. We played on turf. It was tough to come back,” Jones explained.
Then there was the incident that drew his suspension. He touched referee Mark Geiger late in a New England playoff game last October after an uncalled penalty late in the game. Jones put both of his hands on the referee, earning a red card, and then pulled Geiger’s shoulder.
“It was my mistake that I go to the referee and touch him. It’s not allowed,” Jones said.
The punishment, in his estimation, was a bit excessive and cost him a chance to possibly play in Germany or China this season. FIFA regulations require suspensions to be applied across leagues, and MLS Commissioner Don Garber already rejected Jones’ appeal of the ban in December.
“My situation was not good,” said Jones, who played 14 seasons in Europe before joining New England on August 24, 2014.
This didn’t help, either: Jones said the Revolution offered him “less than 20 percent” of his salary to return, when he made around $3 million. He was frustrated by the situation.
So he focused on his family, spending quality time with his five kids and taking them snowboarding in Mammoth Lakes, California. He was just waiting for a call from someone – hoping for Colorado because it was close to his home in Los Angeles.
In early March, Colorado acquired him from New England for general allocation money and the team’s first-round pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft. The Rapids used targeted allocation money and so Jones doesn’t occupy a Designated Player slot.
Only, he had to wait for his debut – and wait and wait some more. For six games he was around the team as only a spectator. Finally, on a snowy night in Denver last Saturday, he got in and made an instant impact.
“He really injected the group with a lot of energy, a lot of quality football, a lot of guile and experience,” Rapids coach Pablo Mastroeni said after the match. “He was a real leader (Saturday) and just found a way to get involved and really make a difference.”
Soon, Jones will be joined by a familiar face. Colorado recently acquired goalkeeper Tim Howard from Everton as a Designated Player. He’s expected to arrive in July when the transfer window opens.
Howard and Jones were teammates on the American squad that made it to the Round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup before losing to Belgium.
“I’m happy for him. He got a good deal,” Jones said. “He’s a good teammate.”
As for how much longer Jones intends to play high-level soccer, well, he’s not quite sure.
“I still feel good,” said Jones, who was born and raised in Germany to an American father and German mother. “I’m happy for now, and after the season, my contract is finished. I have my rights back. Nobody owns my rights. After the season, we’ll see what happens. I’m open for anything.”
AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham contributed to this report.