Jermaine Jones steps up when he knows the spotlight is on him. We've seen it at the World Cup. We've seen it in the MLS playoffs. We've seen it at the Copa America Centenario.
So it shouldn't have come as any surprise that the 35-year-old delivered in the LA Galaxy's 2-0 win over the Montreal Impact on Friday, four days after he passionately defended his role as a U.S. national team starter.
"Bring me the guy who is better at that position and show that week to week in the league, against me, against other teams," Jones told the Max & Herc podcast. "I respect it and I say, 'If he's better, I step away.' I'm 35 — I can step away and say I had a good career. But right now, if you be honest, ask my teammates, ask the people inside. There's nobody who can take my spot."
One standout performance in an MLS match doesn't mean Jones absolutely should be starting come June's World Cup qualifiers. But after a week of headlines for talking a big game, Jones backed it up.
Playing as a box-to-box midfielder in front of Joao Pedro, Jones won a week-high 12 duels. His five tackles were second in MLS this past weekend. And he scored his first goal for the Galaxy, a 74th-minute strike after a characteristic lung-busting run on the counter.
The LA Galaxy's average formation against Montreal on Friday. Note the position of Jermaine Jones (13).
Jermaine Jones' touches for the Galaxy against Montreal.
It was a vintage Jones showing, fueled by heart, aggression and, of course, controversy after his embellishment helped draw a red card for Montreal midfielder Marco Donadel. If the Galaxy continue to get that kind of all-action performance out of Jones, they should quickly re-establish themselves as Western Conference contenders.
While Sebastian Lletget's foot injury is a blow for Curt Onalfo's side, there's still plenty to like about the Galaxy aside from Jones. The return of Gyasi Zardes to full fitness gives Giovani dos Santos the type of mobile striker partner he needs to thrive. Emmanuel Boateng is growing in confidence as Lletget's replacement on the left flank, topping MLS with five dribbles completed this past weekend. Romain Alessandrini's class has quickly become apparent on the opposite side, with the designated player compiling two goals and three assists over the past three matches.
Jones' consistency, however, is particularly key. But as long as he plays with a chip on his shoulder, the Galaxy should have nothing to worry about.
D.C. United clicks in central midfield
D.C. United's average formation against NYCFC. Note the positions of Jared Jeffrey (25), Ian Harkes (23) and Luciano Acosta (10).
Veteran Marcelo Sarvas' suspension triggered a shake-up in D.C. United's central midfield Saturday, but the youthful trio of Jared Jeffrey, Ian Harkes and Luciano Acosta rose to the occasion in a 2-1 win over New York City FC.
Jeffrey, who had played just one minute since being pulled off early in the second half of a 4-0 loss to NYCFC a month ago, shined as the deep-lying playmaker. Stepping in for Sarvas (with usual backup Rob Vincent sidelined), Jeffrey won key midfield battles, kept the ball moving and made a game-high eight recoveries.
"Jared had a great game," United coach Ben Olsen said. "He didn't have his best game in New York, and I thought personally it was rewarding for him to get back out there and show that he's a very, very capable player in this league. I thought he was great — he covered a bunch of ground, his duel winning was great and he had good composure all night long. It's not an easy role to step into."
Filling the two-way role in United's 4-1-4-1, Harkes held his own against NYCFC's veteran trio of Alexander Ring, Andrea Pirlo and Maximiliano Moralez. But the standout performer was Acosta, who led all players at RFK Stadium with nine duels won, three tackles and three scoring chances created — an all-around outing that showcased the 22-year-old's value not only as an attacking catalyst but also as a ball-winner in midfield.
Acosta then put the icing on the cake with what proved to be the game-winning strike, prodding home the rebound of a denied Lloyd Sam strike after sparking the sequence with a gliding run through midfield.
"We obviously felt pretty comfortable in the game," Acosta said. "Ian is a really good player, he's pretty young, he has a lot of potential. Jared as well is a great player, and we're just three young guys who want to keep playing and want to play in every game. We have to keep doing well so the coach keeps believing in us and keeps wanting to put us on the field."
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