For Pete's Sake

Wherefore art thou, Derrick Jones?

Photo: Earl Gardner

When the Union opened their 2017 campaign in Vancouver, one name stood out on the team sheet — and on the pitch.

There was a lot of weight on Derrick Jones’s shoulders. The young midfielder was the first Homegrown player signed by the Union out of their Academy. And he had forced his way into the starting lineup, paired with Haris Medunjanin in central midfield.

Jones looked up for it in his first outing, and he looked solid in the other seven matches he started that season — maybe save the Red Bulls match in June where he earned a straight red card. In that time, he also played for the United States in the U-20 World Cup.

Yet since a 90-minute outing on July 6, 2017, Jones has scraped together just seven MLS minutes for the Union — two in an inconsequential late-season match against Seattle, and five with the game well in hand against a nine-man New England side.

He’s been left out of the game-day 18 entirely in the Union’s last three matches, with journeyman midfielder Warren Creavalle preferred as defensive cover.

With the Union scuffling through the first part of the season, and Jones apparently a good distance for the first team, it’s worth asking the question: is it time to worry about Derrick Jones?

How he lost his place

A few factors cost Derrick Jones his place in the Union’s starting lineup.

One was a numbers crunch in midfield. Without a suitable No. 10 to start the season, Alejandro Bedoya played that role, opening the No. 8 for Jones. After that experiment failed, and some combination of Ilsinho and Roland Alberg took the attacking role, Bedoya displaced Jones.

Another was injury. Jones suffered a concussion in the midseason friendly against Swansea on July 15, missing two weeks before returning to play for Bethlehem.

And another was form. It’s fair to say that Jones didn’t quite look the part in his June outings after a hot start — maybe a step off the pace, maybe not quite in the right places, maybe not as secure in his touches.

What’s Jim Curtin said on the matter? In a piece last September by Dave Zeitlin, Curtin said that “like a lot of young players […] we saw a little bit of a dip in form” from Jones. That dip in form, Curtin thought, was “a little bit of everything[.] There’s the technical part, the tactical part, the psychological part of what it means to be a pro.”

An incident in one of Jones’ last Union starts — the U.S. Open Cup loss to Red Bulls in late June — suggests that the psychological makeup did indeed bother Curtin. Jones took a knock to the knee and exited the match in the 82nd minute. After the match, Curtin said that Jones told him later that he probably could have gone back in, and that Curtin replied “that’s useless to tell me now.” PSP’s Steve Whisler, covering the match, thought that there was “some truth” to the idea that Curtin was frustrated, and noted that the manager gave Jones “some lip” as he was leaving the field. When you combine that with the red card Jones picked up tackling Felipe two weeks earlier, it suggests that Curtin wasn’t happy with his young midfielder’s awareness.

To be fair, that’s a bit circumstantial. But Curtin is a manager who trusts certain players and doesn’t trust others. When he doesn’t trust a player it can take Herculean efforts to get back in the side. With a reliable backup available, Jones may not have done enough so far this season — in first team training and at Bethlehem — to overcome that loss of trust.

How he can get it back

Let’s say the Union manager wanted to get Derrick Jones on the pitch. What’s the best way to do that?

Jones is more destroyer than creator at this point in his career. He’s athletic and covers a lot of ground, but doesn’t offer you much going forward. His natural partner in midfield, then, is Haris Medunjanin, who’s more of a creator and gives you excellent passing range but is more limited athletically.

The player in that position now is Alejandro Bedoya, who is the team captain and (we believe) highest-paid player. Does it make sense to move Bedoya out of position?

It does when you consider that Bedoya isn’t exclusively a deep-lying midfielder. In his career with both Nantes and the U.S. national team, Bedoya has had success on the right wing, where he can both operate in space and track back aggressively on defense.

The current right winger, Fafa Picault, fits what Jim Curtin would like his wingers to do in one respect — he has the speed to pin back opposing fullbacks and to execute pressure. But his actual offensive output (in two games, granted) leaves something to be desired. Picault frequently makes poor decisions with the ball at his feet, and is a below-average finisher.

Moving Bedoya to right wing sacrifices speed, sure, but it would add another reliable passer to the offense who can still wreak havoc in a high-pressing system. Picault, too, might benefit from a run off the bench, where he could use that blazing speed against the tired legs of opposing fullbacks.

I don’t think it’s a slam-dunk move, to be sure. As Adam Cann outlined yesterday, there’s some reason to believe the Union are more unlucky than anything else so far. Maybe it’s not time to make such a major change to midfield.

But there could be tremendous upside. Jones is a player I, along with many other observers, rate quite highly.

He’s at the stage in his career where he needs MLS minutes.

The struggling Union are in need of a spark.

We’re getting close to the right time to play the kid.

Or we’ll be left to wonder about another promising youngster who stalled under the Union’s tutelage.

18 Comments

  1. Bench Medunjanin, start Jones as a pure #6 and give Bedoya license to roam the attacking third. Why we’re risking the youngest and least experienced backline in the league with Medunjanin in there is a mystery to me.

  2. I’m starting to think betting the future on just The Academy isn’t the sure thing the FO makes it out to be…

  3. This is where Curtins lack of rotation screws us over.

    Between two 30 + year olds who are asked to run alot (well, atleast Bedoya) there should be AMPLE oppurtunity to get a young 8/6 playing time.

    The fact Jones doesnt is a goddamn joke.

    • my job for PSP is to watch the Steel.
      .
      In the Steel’s normal DCM’s absence due to injury, Jones has played the #6.
      .
      My rose-colored glasses hope is that you, James, may need to change the “doesn’t” in your last line to “hasn’t yet”.
      .
      Why do I suspect this? 1. Earnie Stewart plays a long game, IMO.
      2. Creavalle is older, has reached his ceiling, and does not need developmental minutes with coach Burke and the Steel. 3. I think they are doing exactly the same thing with Simpson and Burke at the #9. The players with the legitimate chance to grow further are being given the opportunity.
      .
      So far, even with the one overt injury rehab stint of the season, the only Union players to come down to the Steel have been young. Cory Burke is the oldster at 26. No Gaddis for a refresher at left back before Colorado. No Ilsinho. No Creavalle. It is too soon to draw conclusions, and I jump to them very rapidly.
      .
      4. Haris Medunjanin is 32. He has retired from international soccer. They have to be thinking about the team after Medunjanin and Bedoya.
      .
      as I said, I believe Earnie is playing a long game.
      .
      and their — so far — most successful homegrown promotion got 46 starts in USL before being handed the keys to the position.

  4. I’ve been toting about Derrick Jones for a long time now. He has a lot of potential and once again the Union FO could possibly ruin another career like with prior union acquisitions. He has the attributes to become an excellent D mid. Right now we don’t even have a true D mid in the middle of the pitch. Does anyone think Bedoya is??? My opinion, Bedoya has not given enough in that position. He has been slow with decisions and movement , his passing has been ok but for what we’re paying him it’s underrated. The last time I saw Jones play, he was moving into space to receive the ball and had made many passes with purpose, not just to keep possession but also to play the ball forward to start an offensive press. Mind you he is a D mid!! His defensive game is fantastic. He can back track and disrupt opponents plays through the middle and distribute. Has he been perfect ? Absolutely not. No one on this team has been either. If it’s true that Curtin was frustrated with jones, has he seen the rest of his fucking team ?? If I’m him on the sideline during these games I’d be showing some frustration to a lot of these players and guiding and directing them during the match. Curtin has shown none of these aspects during matches. D Jones has been far from being the problem on this team. It’s time to grow some balls Curtin and change things up. Play Jones more and Creavalle for that matter. They need a true D mid in the middle and it showed that they needed it during the Orlando match.

  5. It makes perfect sense to have Creavalle on the bench over Jones. Jones needs game minutes, so if he isn’t starting for the Union he should be starting for Steel. I would like to see him get some starts this year though and soon. Our midfield has not bee good enough.

  6. Curtin has been seduced by the allure of Haris Medunjanin’s long passing, to the detriment of the entire team and Jones and Bedoya in particular. He is such a one-dimensional, one-footed player that his offense is easy to smother and so athletically lackluster that opponents target him with ease. Bedoya spends obscene amounts of energy covering for him.

    Would love to see Jones in there in place of Haris

    • I agree 100000000000% and hopefully this is no longer a hot take. I love Haris, but he is such a one trick pony you need other players to specifically play to his strengths/make up for his weakenesses, and I just don’t think thats how you build a good team.

      • The only way it works would be to play with 3 in the back and with Bedoya and Jones in front of Medunajin like Pirlo used to play for Juventus. But Medunajnin is not Prilo and that’s a major formation shift that our roster is not built for. I say free Jones.

  7. Unfortunately, there are enough examples in place now to say that the regression we see in the young players after a given period of time isn’t just a talent (or luck) thing, it’s a process thing.
    .
    As much as I hate to say it, this area is what leads me to entertain the thought that we need a very different kind of coach in the box.

    • Please list these example. So far I have Rosenberry who was good, then bad, now good again. Who else has been good enough for long enough to count as a regression?

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