For Joevin Jones, the end of 2016 and start of 2017 might be hard to top.
The Trinidad and Tobago-born Jones had just finished his first season with the Seattle Sounders, which saw him slide into the left-back role and become an important contributor on an MLS Cup-winning side. The final was decided by penalties, during which Jones converted his opportunity.
And then in January, interest arrived from abroad. And not just anywhere, but the Bundesliga. Darmstadt was interested in Jones’ services, and he couldn’t help but find himself interested in a move to Germany.
“I was in touch with them since January,” Jones told Goal . “The Bundesliga is a league I looked up to as a player, like Spain's La Liga and the Premier League.”
However, no deal could be agreed upon before the end of the European transfer window in January, so Jones remained in Seattle. Darmstadt went about its season, finishing at the bottom of the Bundesliga andrelegated to the second division.
But that did not deter Jones, who signed a pre-contract with Darmstadt on July 30 . That means he will finish the current MLS season with the Sounders before linking up with the German club in January.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Jones said. “It’s a high level. I’m excited to join the team but also to play in Europe and test my ability to see where I am at the moment in my career.”
It will be a tough loss for the Sounders, who have seen Jones blossom from important piece to key contributor in his second season with the club. A player who was always capable of delivering in attack, evidenced by some of his memorable moments playing for Trinidad and Tobago against CONCACAF’s giants, Mexico especially, has now found a new level and consistency in his game this season.
Lining up on the left side, sometimes at fullback and other times as a winger, Jones has already racked up 10 assists this season, putting him in a multi-way tie for second.
The improvement may not be surprising for some, given Jones, who just turned 26 on Aug. 3, is now in the prime years of his career. But he attributed success as the drive that fueled him.
After his MLS career began on a Chicago Fire side that finished bottom of MLS in 2015, Jones was traded in a draft-day deal that took him to the Sounders. It resulted in a worst-to-first scenario for Jones, who would win the title just 11 months after the trade.
“It was an honor to win the title,” he said. “As a player you always want to achieve certain goals and when I first came into the league that was one of my goals — to win the league, and I did it with Seattle and (it made me) very proud as a player.”
But instead of being satisfied having accomplished that goal, and drawing interest overseas, Jones saw it as inspiration to drive harder than he had before.
“I think this year, winning the (MLS) Cup last year meant more focus from me and more hard work,” Jones said. “So that’s what I did through all preseason and also up to now, a little extra more, that can help me to be at my top game.”
The success put Jones in an enviable, but still difficult position.
The offer from Darmstadt was tempting — even if the club was no longer in the top-flight, the opportunity to return with success this season remains. At the very least, it offered a gateway to the dream Jones has long-held.
But Jones enjoyed Seattle, telling Goal he loved the people, the city and his team. He had a desire to stay, but the two sides were unable to come to an agreement.
“For me, growing up, I always wanted to go over to Europe and I had that chance,” he said. “And I’m the right age to go over to Europe right now so I took the chance. I tried to stay at Seattle but things didn’t work out between me and the GM (Garth Lagerwey), contract-wise. The opportunity came along, so I grabbed it.”
And Darmstadt is happy he did.
"We are very happy that Joevin has chosen the Lilies,” Darmstadt manager Torsten Frings said in a press release after the signining. “He was an absolute favorite of us, who we would rather have in our team today than tomorrow and will help us immediately after his arrival.”
On the other side, the Sounders are disappointed to be losing him, with head coach Brian Schmetzer telling reporters after the deal was announced Jones is a “tremendous player” and that he was “going to miss him.” And Jones said his teammates echoed that sentiment.
“Some are sad because they wanted me to stay here because they know what player I am — I’m good player, I’m a good team player and I’m a good locker-room player so some are disappointed. But at the same time, they’re happy for me.”
Though the move is official and January is only five months away, there is still plenty to do for both Jones and the Sounders between now and then. September will feature World Cup qualifying, and though Trinidad and Tobago sits at the bottom of the Hexagonal, the team has played better since the appointment of former Soca Warrior Dennis Lawrence as head coach.
That leaves Jones in higher spirits for the upcoming matches against Honduras and Panama — games that pretty much require victories if the Soca Warriors are to have any hope of sneaking into a playoff spot for the World Cup.
“I think everyone is excited," Jones said. "Everyone wants to qualify for the World Cup for the second time for the country. I think the players’ mood is right and I think we’re on the right page as players.”
Beyond that, Jones’ focus at the club level remains stateside as he finishes out his contract with the Sounders. Seattle sits on 37 points, which is good for a tie atop the Western Conference. After another somewhat sluggish start to the year, the squad is unbeaten in seven games, and winners of four of their last five.
A repeat in the MLS Cup may have seemed unlikely during the rough stretch, but with Jones playing well, Jordan Morris rounding into form and the talents of Clint Dempsey and Nicolas Lodeiro, Seattle looks like it will again be a tough out in the west.
And lifting the MLS Cup as he exits the league is one of his goals.
“To be a top player,” Jones said when asked what he wishes to accomplish before he leaves. “To be that player every coach is talking about in the dressing room to keep their eye on, and also to win the championship again. And also to have more assists.”
Come January, when his MLS journey comes to an end, Jones will shift his focus to Darmstadt as the club battles to reclaim its Bundesliga status this season. He isn’t sure where he’ll play for the side — the club told him he may see time at both left back and left wing as he has in Seattle. But regardless of where he lines up, Jones’ desire at his new club will be the same.
“Just to be the same Joevin Jones or even better and help them accomplish their goal that they have set for the season.”