Colorado Rapids midfielder Jermaine Jones answers questions with the same urgency on display when he finds a yard of space. There’s no pausing, not even for a moment, when asked how he evolves from new teammate to leader.
“People know, ‘Okay, this guy’s crazy, but he can play,’” Jones says, taking on the vantage point of a forecasting new teammate. “But as we will get to know, he will always protect me. And if he goes, I go.”
What is it with this guy, anyway?
Admired but feared, self-assured yet combustible, to speak to Jones one-on-one for any focused amount of time is to be hit with an entire universe of emotions, logic, and philosophy. The man they called “fighting pig” at Schalke is a tornado, winding his way through American soccer and somehow only picking up power with age.
Jones defies systems at times, even coaches. His 34-year-old legs barely stop moving, occasionally because they’ve been weaponized to cause grievous harm to the opposition.
But when all’s said and done, he usually wins. Not all the time, but more often than not.
Since returning from a meniscus injury in a 3-1 loss to Borussia Dortmund as a member of Schalke on Oct. 26, 2013, Jones has played in 59 league games between Schalke, Besiktas, New England and Colorado.
His teams have lost a whopping nine of them.
“People maybe from the outside see it now, especially now that I’ve come to Colorado,” Jones said. “It wasn’t one time that I gave a team the next push, the next step to start to believe. ‘He comes, he runs, he fights, he scores. All the stuff. He doesn’t come here to talk.’ This is why we have that success.”
Jones’ drive to lead comes from necessity. The son of an American serviceman and a German mother, his mother moved his family to Germany when he was six, leaving behind a father arrested as part of a drug trafficking ring.
Not that Jones knew this then, or even for decades. According to the New York Times, the midfielder grew up thinking his father had abandoned them, and wouldn’t learn the truth until his 26th birthday when his wife Sarah contacted father Halbert and arranged a phone call with Jermaine.
“Honestly I was always a leader,” Jones said. “I decided really early back in the day, I was always the oldest one of five kids, and grew up without a dad so I knew I could lead a family in a way without a dad to take care of my brothers and sisters. That’s how it started. Every time on every team I played, I was another player in the beginning but I would get into being one of the leaders.”
He didn’t have a man he looked up to, or followed “as an idol”, but navigated his way through a series of fits and starts.
“I had learning experiences to always come back and push myself more,” he says. “You can talk and people listen, but they only listen if you give 100 percent on the field. If you do that, they call you a leader. If you only talk outside the field of play, it’s… Nobody really cares what you say. That’s what I had to learn at a young age.”
Jermaine Jones might not even be here without Friedhelm Funkel.
Six months after earning a big transfer to Bayer Leverkusen from Eintracht Frankfurt, the Germany U-21 regular’s rise through the national team program had stalled.
He spent most of time at Bayer with the Bayer Leverkusen II, where he scored five goals in 15 games but couldn’t earn regular time with the first team. He says the rise in class when it comes to teammates and training was an eye-opener.
Funkel had taken over as manager of Eintracht, and offered Jones an opportunity: Come back on loan, not as just a player but with the expectation of growing as a leader.
Find your potential.
“He called me to go with him to lunch,” Jones said. “He said I want to get you back to Frankfurt, but you have to be the leader. I want you to be the captain and all the stuff like that.
“I was still young but I had failed in one team, and I didn’t want to fail in another. I focused on the game and I focused on leadership.”
The stint at Eintracht shaped him in many ways. He became a more disciplined and focused player, and endured the frustrations that come with being unable to play his beloved sport thanks to surgery on his broken left shin.
By the way, that’s an injury he played with for close to half a season. Jones says he’s never been able to stomach missing soccer games given how many people would trade anything to be in his shoes.
“There’s things that you can put into this game where people say, ‘Oh wait, you are giving everything every game, every training, and that’s what gives (fans) the club, the name,’” Jones said.
“You give the work for a lot of people who are back home from working jobs and stuff like that. People have respect when you run hard for the team. You can lose but you gotta give everything.”
Yet his departure from Eintracht, the club who gave him the lifeline from Bayer, was not a celebration. Jones, the club captain, didn’t agree to a contract with Eintracht that met his expectations and desire. He left for Schalke, a move that would make him a regular in the UEFA Champions League and cement his status as a national team prospect.
For two nations.
Jones logged a total of 98 minutes between a trio of friendlies for Germany in 2008, booking a win, draw and loss against Austria, Belarus, and England.
With no clear path to regular status with Germany, Jones made clear his interest in representing the United States under head coach Bob Bradley. After a summer of speculation, FIFA cleared Jones in October 2009.
He made his American debut after the 2010 World Cup, and picked up his first 12 caps under Bradley until the disappointing 2011 Gold Cup final loss to Mexico that led to the hiring of Jurgen Klinsmann as U.S. Soccer’s head coach and technical director.
Klinsmann’s era began with serious on-the-field problems, as he won just one of six games. An injured Jones saw action in just two of those matches – a 1-1 draw with Mexico and a 1-0 loss to France – but both men saw their USMNT fortunes rise in Jan. 2012.
Jones was handed the captain’s armband for a start against Venezuela, a 1-0 win that kicked off a four-match win streak for the Yanks. Jones played 90 minutes in three of those four matches, and went on to play every minute of the 2014 World Cup as a trusted ally of the coach, famously being counseled by the boss following Clint Dempsey’s go-ahead goal against Portugal (below right).
Their relationship is one that extends off-the-field, and Jones says it’s not about hailing from Germany.
“It’s that we respect each other,” Jones said. “We can talk about all stuff. Our daughters are friends. It’s a real relationship. It’s a coach and a player, but he knows how to treat me. If I am down, he might have to go hard at me. Sometimes I get crazy and scream at him, but he knows to take it. ‘Hey Jermaine is crazy, but I need him on the field. He’s the one keeps my guys together.’ The relationship I can honestly say it’s amazing. As long as he’s the coach of the national team, I will always be behind him. And if he wasn’t, it would still be good.
“He can close his eyes and I know I will do my best. Jurgen knows that. He knows that if I come to the national team, and I get on the field in an important game, I’m there. Copa America, World Cup, I show up for the important games. Sometimes I have friendly games where it’s not that important, but he has my back and knows if he needs me, I will be there.”
Jones won’t be talked into chatter about the World Cup in Russia. He wants to keep going, but is eyeing September’s World Cup qualifiers against Trinidad and Tobago, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
“You cannot lose the games, or instantly out of the next World Cup. So I don’t have my head on anything else. We have to beat both. We show up when we have to show up. I have the trust in my boys and me. We will make it to the next round of qualification and then make it so we go to the World Cup.”
In 2013-14, Jones played for three teams. Schalke finished third in the Bundesliga, Besiktas third in the Turkish Super Lig, and New England ran to the MLS Cup Final.
Oh, and his memorable goal against Portugal was part of the USMNT’s thrilling escape from the World Cup’s Group of Death.
Such is the life of Jones, a player ready to give his all on the field but more than willing to eschew club norms when it comes to contracts.
Yet Jermaine Jones is, in a sense, a winner of the highest order. Before he hit the pitch in New England, the club had lost nine of 12 matches, a run which included an eight-game losing streak.
He subbed onto BMO Field Aug. 30, 2014 against Toronto in a 3-0 win, the first match of a 8-1-1 finish to the regular season that propelled the Revolution past Columbus and the Red Bulls before falling to the Galaxy in extra time of the MLS Cup Final.
New England had a 8W-4L-6D record with Jones on the field the following season, which isn’t as dramatic until you consider the Revs went 3-6 when Jones went down with a groin injury, even falling to third-tier USL side Charlotte in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
After an unceremonious loss in the playoffs that saw Jones suspended six games for bumping referee Mark Geiger, the midfielder moved onto Colorado. The Rapids had the third-worst record in 2014, and the second-worst mark in 2015, so there was work to be done.
Colorado’s now in second out West, and has not lost a match with Jones on the pitch (Six wins and two draws).
So, yeah, he wins.
“I hate to lose and people know that. If I step on the field, it’s only one thing, it’s winning. I do what I have to do to do that.
“Sometimes people don’t understand you have maybe 15 or 16, maybe 20 years of career. You can go through your career and say, ‘Ok, you win, you lose, you have fun, you play for money’. But I was always the one who said I’m so thankful that I get the chance to be one of the kids who get to get out of bed and be a soccer player.
“I played for Germany who is a big soccer country. And I played for America. To get that chance to represent two countries where you were born or are from, is unbelievable. To get the chance to play week-to-week on the field where people come and look up to you. You can change so much in people’s eyes. They believe, and you see somebody who has that (team) pride to them. You give them more back. You don’t have to be the guy with amazing quality like Cristiano or Messi.”
As dynamite and heart-warming as all of that is, a man’s still gotta get paid. And Jones knew that leaving Besiktas for MLS, as a World Cup hero nonetheless, was going to be a boon for commissioner Don Garber.
“The first time I came to America, this is what I told Don Garber when I talked,” Jones says, firing words at a mile-a-minute. “If I come to the league, this is the deal. For the numbers I’ve made in my career, for an American international player, there’s not a lot of players who can sit next to me.
“It’s no problem for me. I’ll come and I’ll bring quality on the field. They had eight-straight losses. I said I will come, we will change a team and we will go to the final. You can ask them, I told them when I signed the contract, and I did it!”
Jones says he purposely only signed a short-term contract, saying New England would see his value and they’d go from there. When the Revolution balked at his demands, he wanted to move closer to his family on the West Coast.
No hard feelings. Hello, Mile High City.
“I told my agent what I wanted,” Jones said. “I try to show people on the field and then they will treat me with that respect. If they don’t treat me like that, then that’s fine, then I do what I did with New England. I shake hands and say, ‘Thank you for the time, but it’s time to go and I will go’. That’s how I work.”
But why Colorado? There was interest across MLS, never mind across the Atlantic, but also concerns with the six-game suspension Jones accepted for the physical altercation with Geiger. And Colorado technical director Paul Bravo admitted Jones wasn’t their top target when free agency opened ahead of this season.
What tipped the scales, though, was head coach Pablo Mastroeni, a man whose playing style would fit just fine in a conversation about Jones, who gives the coach full marks for the Rapids’ turnaround.
“I would say big credit to Pablo,” Jones said. “The passion from Pablo, this guy lives for the sport. He lives the sport like 24 hours. When we play, I think he runs more on the outside line than some players do on the field. You see a guy who has that passion. In 2010 he was a player who wins the Cup, who gets that kind of respect.”
Jones wanted to restore the standing of Colorado as a club, but also as a difficult place to play. He hadn’t played on the road against the Rapids, though he had played in the building in the famous “Snow Fro” World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica, but he watched his Revs beat Colorado there 2-0 in 2015.
“I want to make a dream happen that people look to Colorado and say, ‘Two or three years ago, it’s not that team anymore, man. You’re going to there, you have to fight for it. Colorado, it’s tough. Yeah there’s Seattle, L.A., maybe Dallas, Portland. No. Now people say Colorado’s taking a spot. That is what I want to see. We are in second position, two games behind Dallas, on the West Side, from my opinion the stronger side than the East.
Jones says he’s calmed down from the constant red card threat he was earlier in his career, but he’s not going to give an inch down the stretch.
“That’s what I do. I always try to be a nice guy, but of course you see me on the field, like with (Geiger), that’s the passion in me. I hate to lose. My game is running and fighting for every centimeter on the field, to win a game. Maybe I make a mistake, but still I try to protect my team.”
The competitive drive isn’t going anywhere, whether Jones plays until he’s 50 or rides into the sunset before the next World Cup.
He loves his role as a family man, ever-present for his children the way his father couldn’t be for him.
Which isn’t to say life is going to be easy for the Jones’ kids, especially in the backyard.
“When my kids are around, I play always to win,” he said, deadpan.
“If they see me out on the field and say, “Papa, can we play a game?” I don’t let them win. My boys can be 7, my daughter can be 3. I play a game, like a kid’s game, they have to beat me. I don’t care. My wife can say she’ll throw me out the house if I don’t let them win.
“I’ll say, ‘No I don’t have to, because no one will let them win outside’. They have to beat people to take the next step and move forward. No one’s going to come up to you and I say, ‘I like you, I’ll let you win.’ That’s not the world.”
And it’s certainly not his world either. You don’t have to like Jermaine Jones, but odds are he’s going to win.