Jones continues stellar World Cup with gritty effort against Germany

The U.S. midfielder continued his strong World Cup on Thursday, overcoming a broken nose to help the Americans earn the result they needed vs. Germany to reach the round of 16.
RECIFE, Brazil — One minute, Jermaine Jones is pounding his arms on the soaked turf of Arena Pernambuco. The next, he’s flying to the ground after having referee Rashvan Irmatov block his marauding run toward a promising pass near the penalty area. Later on, Jones has his face contorted by a teammate’s head after a nasty collision with Alejandro Bedoya.

He laid on the ground for some time, and even as a stretcher waited to take him off, the gritty midfielder popped up, slowly walked off with blood trickling down his nose, received some more treatment for a suspected broken nose, then ran back out on the field.

You might consider all of these things and think Jones had a nightmare day Thursday, but the reality was that the American midfielder turned in another man of the match-worthy game for the USA. Even though the Americans lost to Germany, the U.S. team, led by Jones, earned plenty of respect along with a place in the World Cup round of 16.

“Jermaine is who he is, he’s a warrior,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “He showed that again, and he’s so important to us and to the entire team because he has this never-die attitude and he’s playing a very good tournament so far. I hope he steps it up another notch in the round of 16.”

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Thursday’s Group G finale against Germany meant everything to Jones, and you could see it all afternoon. While his teammates looked a bit timid early in the match, it was Jones urging his team on and battling the Germans at every turn, helping turn the tide in the U.S. team’s favor.

“In that game, I think you have to go into that battle one against one,” Jones said. “In the first 20 minutes, you can see that we didn’t go into battles, we gave them space. So it was difficult and Germany was for 20 minutes the better team. When we came in the battle, we stepped sometimes on their toes so they didn’t feel so comfortable.”

The Americans enjoyed arguably their best stretch of the World Cup in the final 25 minutes of the first half, knocking the ball around confidently and keeping possession for long stretches. Jones did his part, covering an incredible amount of ground, at times pressing deep in midfield, and at other times surging into the attacking third like a forward.

“His effort that he’s putting into each of these games is enormous,” U.S. midfielder Graham Zusi said of Jones. “Seeing a guy doing that, it can lift everyone else around him as well. So he’s doing his job, but he’s making people want to do their job as well.”

Jones has long been considered by Klinsmann as a team leader even though his national team performances prior to the World Cup had been inconsistent. In Brazil, he has stepped up his play in a variety of ways, giving the team a dynamic force in midfield to go along with the tireless work of Michael Bradley and Kyle Beckerman.

“He’s a player with a big character, with a big ego,” U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard said of Jones. “Those players oftentimes don’t want to do things for the team. I thought he’s been brilliant in terms of playing out on the left wing, which isn’t anything natural for him. Doing a great job tracking back.

“Even at times today I was scratching my head because he was playing center forward. But it was working,” Howard added. “Clint was pulling out getting more of the ball. It was just working. (Jones is) one of the tough guys. He gets in there and he grinds and he’s been fantastic for us, he really has.”

Though he had just finished leading the team to the big goal of reaching the round of 16, and even as he sported a lump on his nose that suggested it's broken, Jones was already thinking ahead to Tuesday’s showdown with Belgium. But not before reminding people of how much skepticism there had been in the past six months about the U.S. team’s chances of surviving the "Group of Death."

Jones even took to Twitter, posting a photo of himself and his teammates after the win and sending along a message to ESPN analysts Alexi Lalas and Taylor Twellman, who predicted the U.S. would not qualify for the round of 16.

“Before this tournament started, no one was talking that America can come to the next round. It was always Portugal and Germany,” Jones said. “We showed people that we have a good team and we have a good atmosphere in the group.

“Everything that the coach did before the tournament, who he sent home and who he took for the team, I think was a good decision. The team showed heart and gave good feedback. Now for the next game, it’s the same tough game like Germany. (Belgium) have a lot of experienced players, good players from different good clubs. It’s a knockout game and we have to see it like a final.”

For Jones, who has played every World Cup game this tournament like a final, the Belgium match will offer one more chance to prove doubters wrong, and one more chance to help the U.S. team reach new heights it wouldn’t be able to reach without his grit, determination and fearlessness.