The subtle joke was aimed at the fact that Jones’ language skills are still a work in progress. Yet there he was, engaging the American press corps and holding his own. Even when Beasley joked at him, Jones didn’t miss a beat, saying simply “Crazy, eh?”
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Jones is far from crazy and is having as impressive a World Cup as any player on the U.S. team. His strong performances have not only helped the Americans reach the round of 16, they could also help him carry out a master plan he appears to have put plenty of thought into.
That plan is to come to Major League Soccer as a designated player.
Sources tell Goal USA that Jones is still very interested in coming to MLS after actively seeking a move to the league last winter. He was unable to secure an MLS deal during the winter transfer window because of a lack of interest in him at an asking price believed to be in the $2 million-a-year range. The market for a 32-year-old midfielder who, at that time, hadn’t really been a standout for the U.S. national team, was pretty nonexistent, and Jones eventually settled on a loan move to Turkish side Besiktas.
Now, Jones is free to leave Schalke 04 and is having the kind of tournament that could earn him one more big move in Europe. But his actions away from the field at the World Cup subtly suggest he is still trying to pave the way for a move to the United States.
No American player has spoken to the media at the World Cup more than Jones, by a pretty wide margin. It seemed a peculiar development at the World Cup considering his English is still developing, and there are other players who have traditionally done more interviews. In Brazil, however, Jones has taken every opportunity to speak to members of the media even as some teammates go out of their way to avoid them (like Beasley, who has yet to speak to the media in Brazil despite being a veteran playing in his fourth World Cup).
Jones’ increased media interaction is no accident. Sources tell Goal USA that Jones told U.S. Soccer officials he wants to do as many media appearances as possible, and by making himself available he has lapped the field in terms of interviews given and exposure received.
That increased exposure, coupled with Jones’ outstanding play in the group stage, has helped catapult Jones from a player most U.S. fans were indifferent about to a certified cult figure, skyrocketing up the charts of most popular American players.
The 32-year-old has won American fans over with his quality, toughness, desire and ability to take on some of the world’s best players without backing down. He has endeared himself to American fans all over the country, and now the question is whether an MLS team is ready to sign him to a designated player deal.
Where could he wind up? Any number of teams could use his services. Sporting Kansas City recently sold Uri Rosell and could see Jones as the missing piece to help the team repeat as champion. Both Graham Zusi and Matt Besler have sung Jones’ praises, and Sporting KC owner Robb Heineman has been in Brazil and seen first-hand what Jones can still bring to the table.
The Chicago Fire could use a player like Jones, as could FC Dallas. Chivas USA has a World Cup player in defensive midfielder Oswaldo Minda, but with Jones believed to want to play in Los Angeles, the Goats might have as good a chance as anybody of bringing him on, though you wonder if Chivas USA would commit long-term to a designated player considering the unsettled state of the club’s ownership.
Also working against Jones is the fact that Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu arrived in the league in the winter, reducing the number of clubs needing a player like him.
The number of teams that would be interested in him has to have grown during the past two weeks given his play at the World Cup. Even though that is the case, Jones will probably have to come down on his salary demands, if he hasn’t already. That is probably tough for Jones to understand considering Michael Bradley makes north of $6 million a year, but at age 32, Jones will have a tough time convincing a team to invest a seven-figure salary.
World Cups have a way of making teams spend big money, and Jones just might find himself fielding sizable offers from European clubs that see a player very much at the top of his game. If adequate MLS offers still don't come after the World Cup he has had, then Jones may have no choice but to stay overseas for the time being, with Besiktas being a potential destination after a successful loan spell there.
What is clear is that Jones wants to finish out his career living in the United States, and he is playing well enough to help improve his chances of doing that. If he continues to lead the U.S. team to new heights, it will become that much more likely that a MLS team will step up and sign a player who has made the absolute most of this tournament and shown he can deliver when he needs to.