MEXICO CITY -- When he first switched allegiance from Germany to the American national team back in 2009, Jermaine Jones was lauded as a sure difference maker for the Stars and Stripes.
But for a time, fate intervened, as the midfielder sat out the entire 2009-10 season, and was forced to watch from afar as the likes of Ricardo Clark and Jose Torres struggled in defensive midfield at the 2010 World Cup.
It was a big blow for the international ambitions of a player who says he would have made the switch earlier had it been allowed under FIFA rules, and that many fellow German-Americans are of the same mindset.
“When I was young I was playing for the German youth teams, but when they changed the rules I wanted to go to the U.S.,” Jones told Goal.com. “I wanted to go before, but before they changed the rule I couldn’t do it. When you have the chance, when the mom is German and the dad is American, you have the chance to do it, and I think we can help bring the level of the national team up.”
Back to full fitness, Jones is looking forward to another Bundesliga and Champions League campaign with Schalke 04. He is entering the season coming off the United States' impressive showing against rival Mexico earlier this week as the Americans got their first win on Mexican soil.
Prior to the Mexico friendly, Jones and his teammates were bombarded with questions about El Tri’s Olympic victory, and the supposed gap that has opened up between the two CONCACAF powerhouses. After the match, many questioned if the U.S. deserved to win after Mexico dominated most of the night.
Given his upbringing in one of the finest youth systems in the world, the German-born Jones has his own perspective on the factors that have helped Mexico to move forward, and the hurdles the U.S. faces in player development.
“In the United States you have a lot of other sports that are higher than soccer, so it’s hard for the players to grow up and get the chance to play in Europe,” he said. “But when you see all the players in Europe, you see that American soccer has grown up.
“But when you look three or four years back, the level for both, you can see when the Mexican players were younger they had better preparation. But the last two years America is growing, and with Jurgen Klinsmann we have a lot of experience from Europe. The next year should be a good one.”
Jones praised the changes Klinsmann has made in the U.S. team after taking over for Bob Bradley last summer. Though the results have not always been the most positive over the last year, Jones cites a general improvement in the style of play that has allowed the U.S. to compete with top teams internationally.
“I think he’s changed a lot,” Jones said of Klinsmann, the former coach of Germany. “The American mentality is a lot like, just chilling, but he has his mentality that he knows what he wants to do. He tries to go the best way, he’s showed it with the German national team. And you can see it right now, we won against Italy, we played a good game against France, and we showed we can compete at that level.”
While things progress at the national team level, Jones has found himself in a stable situation at his club. In and out of the Schalke side in previous years – usually because of personality conflicts with coaches more than ability – Jones has found the situation more to his liking under Hub Stevens.
“This year when Hub Stevens came back, he gave me a new chance to show what I can do,” Jones said. “I tried to show him, and now I’m in the 11. Now we will play Champions League, the highest level you can play in Europe, so I’m happy. We know that the Champions League is bigger than the Europa League, it’s harder.”
Despite the higher level of competition in international play that awaits his club compared to last campaign, Jones likes Schalke’s chances in the Champions League, given the level in the German Bundesliga which the team faces week in and week out.
For Jones, for club and country, the upcoming campaign promises to be an eventful one.