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“This guy’s crazy, but he can play” — Jermaine Jones in his own words

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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.”

instagram.com/jermainejunior/
instagram.com/jermainejunior/

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.”

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Jones captaining Eintracht Frankfurt (Getty Images)

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.

BERLIN - NOVEMBER 19: Jermaine Jones of Germany moves away from the challenge of Michael Carrick of England during the International Friendly match between Germany and England at the Olympic Stadium on November 19, 2008 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Jones, with Germany, moves away from the challenge of Michael Carrick of England in 2008. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

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).

(AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
(AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

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.

FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 29: Jermaine Jones #13 of New England Revolution celebrates with Charlie Davies after they won the MLS Eastern Conference Championship as the the New York Red Bulls leave the field at Gillette Stadium on November 29, 2014 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jones and Charlie Davies in 2014 (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

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.”


BEVERLY HILLS, CA - NOVEMBER 21: Soccer player Jermaine Jones (C), wife Sarah Jones and family attend the Petit Maison Chic fashion show honoring Operation Smile on November 21, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images for Petit Maison Chic)
Jones, wife Sarah, and family in 2015 (Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images for Petit Maison Chic)

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.

PL Sunday Preview: Leicester travel to Burnley; Liverpool put perfect record on the line against Man Utd

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With eight Premier League fixtures on Saturday, two more remain in Matchweek 23.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Burnley v. Leicester City  — 9 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Burnley are free falling and there doesn’t seem to be a safety net in sight.

The Clarets, who are two points removed from the relegation zone, head into a tough three-match window without striker Ashley Barnes. Recuperating from a hernia surgery, the 30-year-old is set to miss bouts against Leicester, Manchester United and Arsenal – to name some.

But quite possibly more alarming than that is the team’s recent form. Losing seven out of their last nine, just two points divide Burnley from the drop zone. Sean Dyche‘s team are clueless in the box, scoring one goal in four league bouts. Trouble looms over Turf Moor.

But even then, Dyche, who has made Burnley a force to be reckoned with in the past, believes his side are still a threat.

“They are a good side,” Dyche said about Leicester. “We are on a tough run of form, but I don’t think they are naive enough to think it is turn up and get the business done. We are not a million miles away.”

Can Burnley pull a Southampton and stun a top-four bound Leicester?

“We weren’t at our best [against Southampton] and we didn’t have the energy and intensity that we would have liked,” Brendan Rodgers said ahead of Sunday’s early match.

“We work twice as hard and that’s what we’ve done after every setback. We still have a lot to improve on.”

The Foxes had a rare full week to train, so one can bet that Rodgers is serious about his word.

INJURIES: Burnley —  OUT: Barnes (hernia), Gudmundsson (hamstring) | Leicester City — OUT: Ndidi (knee), Amartey (ankle), James (match fitness)

Liverpool v. Manchester United — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Manchester United are a part of the exclusive anti-Liverpool club for more than the obvious reason.

Yes, the North West Derby is one of the league’s most heated rivalries, with countless flashbacks in its 203 meetings during its over 100 years of history.

But these two, star-studded squads led by Jurgen Klopp and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, respectively, also have a permeating rivalry of their own. The Reds, who have yet to taste defeat this season, have dropped points to only United.

It can be argued that Sunday’s bout may be Liverpool’s most complicated and least favorable, despite maintaining an immaculate record at home. This is the “big one” that many didn’t particularly circle on the calendar.

“It’s a very, very important football game,” Klopp said. “Very important. We have to learn how to deal with games like this in the right manner. We haven’t done bad in the past but we can still improve.

“Old Trafford [a 1-1 draw in October] was a good example, [we were] not at our best because of their quality. We have to make it more likely we’re at our best.”

Solskjaer had his tactics in place last time around; a small injection of final quality and the team would have crushed Liverpool’s aspirations of matching the Iinvincibles or Manchester City’s points record.

“The last two performances [against Liverpool] at Old Trafford we have drawn twice and been close to winning both games, so we’ve got some games to look back at and that will give us loads of belief… if we perform to our best we have a chance to win,” Solskjaer said.

Sunday presents itself as the final chance for United to pull the upset, and reaffirm why they’re a part of the exclusive club to begin with. But Liverpool are slowing becoming invincible themselves.

INJURIES: Liverpool —  OUT: Lovren (hamstring), Clyne (knee), Keïta (groin), Milner (hamstring) | Manchester United  — OUT: Tuanzebe (hamstring), McTominay (knee), Pogba (ankle)

Serie A roundup: Immobile nets hat-trick, Lazio runs over Sampdoria (video)

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Lazio’s record-extending 11th straight Serie A win highlights Saturday’s Serie A action.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Lazio 5-1 Sampdoria  

Like Lazio’s season, Ciro Immobile continues to make strides with each passing day.

The 29-year-old’s hat-trick powered Simone Inzaghi’s side past Sampdoria 5-1, extending his goal count to 23, nine more than Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaka.

 

Lazio, who are three points behind top-of-the-table Juventus and one behind second-place Inter Milan, were up three goals by the 20-minute mark. By the 65th minute, Immobile reached the three goal mark, converting from the spot.

“We would need too much time to count his records,” coach Simone Inzaghi said on Immobile’s magnificent run of form. “We are talking about an extraordinary team player. He has shown that so many times. Immobile has been doing extraordinary things for four years, I’m not surprised.”

Full of confidence, Lazio turn one of the most challenging corners of the season, as they take on rivals AS Roma defend the Italian Cup against Napoli.

“We’ll enjoy this 11th win but we have to already be thinking about the next matches,” Inzaghi said. “We know what a derby means but I can’t allow myself to think about Roma.

“We play Napoli on Tuesday, we know what the Italian Cup means for us, what it meant last year, we have it on our shirts and we will fight for it again.”

When it comes to Sampdoria, things are going from bad to ugly, quick.

“Tonight I’ll add salt and pepper and I’ll eat them alive,” Sampdoria coach Claudio Ranieri said of his players.

“Lazio was too good for us, you could clearly see the difference between the two teams, but it was without doubt the worst Samp performance since I’ve been here.”

Elsewhere

Sassuolo 2-1 Torino

Napoli 0-2 Fiorentina

La Liga roundup: Casemiro’s brace earns injury-riddled Real Madrid win (video)

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Casemiro’s heroic performance against Sevilla highlights La Liga’s Saturday action.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Real Madrid 2-1 Sevilla

Real Madrid’s goalscoring hero on Saturday wasn’t Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard, or even Sergio Ramos.

With two crucial goals in the second half, Casemiro single-handedly earned three points at the Santiago Bernabeu, days removed from cathartic Spanish Super Cup win against arch rivals Atletico Madrid.

With Bale, Hazard, Ramos injured, Benzema on the bench far from match-fit, and Federico Valverde suspended, Los Blancos were in dire need of someone to lead the way, and place pressure on struggling co-leaders Barcelona, who are now under Quique Setien’s tutelage.

By the time the first 45 minutes came to a close, the overall impression was that it would take a miracle for the home side to earn much-needed three points.

That all quickly changed in the second half as the Brazilian midfielder chipped Tomas Vaclik after a picture-perfect backheel from Luka Jovic. Madrid were edging Julen Lopetegui’s side, and Casemiro foreshadowed what was to come.

With the score level, the Brazilian leaped inside the box and headed home a lofting ball from the right flank, catching Sevilla’s defense completely off guard.

Casemiro’s brace came just five minutes after Luuk De Jong‘s left-footed goal in the 64th minute.

League leaders with 43 points, Madrid prepares for their Copa del Rey bout against third-division side Unionistas midweek. Sevilla, on the other hand, host Levante in the same tournament.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Eibar 2-0 Atletico Madrid

Osasuna 0-0 Real Valladolid

Levante 0-1 Alaves

16-year-old Cherki scores 2 as Lyon advances in French Cup

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PARIS (AP) Two goals and two assists from 16-year-old forward Rayan Cherki helped Lyon win 4-3 at Nantes and reach the last 16 of the French Cup on Saturday.

But the run of Reunion Islanders JS Saint-Pierroise ended with a 1-0 loss away to Epinal, which scored deep into extra time.

Cherki put Lyon ahead in the first minute, deftly rounding goalkeeper Alban Lafont and then clipping the ball beyond a defender. He made it 2-0 in the ninth, slotting the ball through Lafont’s legs after being set up by right winger Bertrand Traore.

New signing Renaud Emond headed in Moses Simon’s cross from the left to pull a goal back for Nantes in the 16th. Cherki then showed great awareness to release forward Martin Terrier with a fine pass from midfield in the 37th for 3-1.

Cherki shaved the crossbar with a shot in the 60th and won a penalty in the 67th after robbing the ball off Thomas Basila. He generously allowed striker Moussa Dembele to take it, but Lafont saved Dembele’s attempt.

Two minuter later, Cherki threaded the ball down the right to Dembele, who slotted in, and the irrepressible Cherki set up another chance for Terrier.

Lyon’s defense remains vulnerable and Simon set up Imran Louza’s goal before heading in late on to ensure a tense finish.

Saint-Pierroise had caused an upset in the previous round by knocking out second-division Niort and the players again traveled 6,000 miles (around 9,700 kilometers) from the small island in the Indian Ocean, located off the east coast of Africa.

Saint-Pierroise, the former club of France midfielder Dimitri Payet, was looking to become the first club from the Reunion Islands to reach the last 16 and almost forced a penalty shootout, despite having forward Jean-Michel Fontaine sent off in the 15th minute.

But substitute Adel Berkane rifled home a half-volley for fourth-tier Epinal with two minutes left in extra time.

Also, there were wins for first-division sides Nice, Lille, Saint-Etienne and Strasbourg.

Lille won 2-0 at fifth-division Gonfreville thanks to goals from forwards Loic Remy and Victor Osimhen, while coach Patrick Vieira’s Nice side held on to beat third-tier Red Star 2-1.

Saint-Etienne won 3-2 at Paris FC, a team fighting relegation in the second division.

Paris FC led 2-1 with goals from former Paris Saint-Germain forward Jeremy Menez and ex-Rennes winger Jonathan Pitroipa. Teen forward Charles Abi equalized for Saint-Etienne with 20 minutes left before veteran right back Mathieu Debuchy netted the winner.

Strasbourg won 5-1 at fourth-tier Angouleme.

On Sunday, Rennes plays at fifth-tier Athletico Marseille and PSG travels to face second division league leader Lorient.

Rennes beats PSG in last year’s final.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports