USL - Philadelphia Union II

Derrick Jones: The future of the Union midfield

Photo: Paul Rudderow

You should pay attention to the teenager patrolling center midfield for Bethlehem Steel FC.

Derrick Jones, Bethlehem Steel’s historic first signing, has impressed this season with power and industry in the middle of the park. The 19-year-old midfielder is a Union Academy graduate with dual United States and Ghana citizenship who moved to Philadelphia as a teenager.

Thus far, Jones has been the rock of the midfield for the Steel. His physicality allows him to get stuck in for 50-50 balls while also being able to rough an opposition attacker off the ball on the counter. His pace, stamina, and 6-3 frame have helped make him a defensive force marauding through midfield snuffing out opposition transition plays.

In addition, he has often been the orchestrator of Bethlehem’s attack. He has demonstrated skill in collecting the ball from defenders before quickly shifting it out wide for his teammates to get forward and exploit the defense. Despite routinely facing double teams from opponents, Jones has shown the ability to fend off defenders before moving the ball on. His long, searching balls out wide have caught more than one sleeping defender off guard.

Still, there is room for improvement. His first touch can let him down in vital moments. If Jones receives the ball with time and space, he is generally skillful in maintaining possession but when collecting sharp passes in tight spaces, he often struggles to bring them under control and capitalize on opportunities in advanced positions.

The first half of the Steel’s match against the Wilmington Hammerheads showcased Jones’s many talents and weaknesses. It was an excellent, all-action performance from the midfielder, but again, his first touch in advanced areas let him down at times. Still, he played a beautiful long ball to Seku Conneh that the Liberian coolly finished off with a cheeky chip, giving Jones an assist on the night.

Jones ranks third on the Steel in minutes played and has played in all but one game for the club, scoring two goals and notching one assist thus far.

Vincent Nogueira’s departure due to health issues could allow the young Steel player to become a bigger part of the Union’s plans in the future, sooner rather than later.

Jones clearly does not possess the elegant skill of Nogueira, but his raw talent suggests that he could dominate a midfield at MLS level, if given further development. His passing and physicality are an excellent combination, and his touch is decent enough for him to be considered as a long-term replacement for the released Frenchman.

The dangers of thrusting responsibility onto youth too quickly are well documented, but because Jones is from the academy, he would not have to deal with as many off-field adjustments, just the on-field ones. He is already comfortable in his surroundings and his teammates. His potential coupled with his academy status make him an enticing option for Union head coach Jim Curtin going forward.

In all likelihood, Jones will finish the season out with the Steel without appearing in the Union shirt. Still, the idea behind Jones signing with Bethlehem was for it to be a developmental transition between the Union Academy and the Union senior roster. By next season, Jones could contend for a starting spot with the Union.

17 Comments

  1. I’ve watch most BSFC games and he is certainly the only player who has stood out consistently.

    That being said, I view him as much more of a 6 than an 8. We would be doing him a disservice to expect the same stuff out of him as we did Nogs. DJones seems to be more of a mega-carrol type than anything else.

    Then again, both he and Edu probably offer enough in attack that a midfield 3 next year of Barnetta – Jones – Edu may work well. J and E would have more defensive presence than Nogs and Carrol and both are just offensive enough.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      I also have watched most if not all Steel games, both live and courtesy of you tube.
      .
      The steel’s offense does not play through Derrick Jones in the attacking third., nor in the offensive half of the middle third. All credit to him for his finding Seku Conneh at a distance and across channels last Friday. That has not yet occurred with frequency or predictability.
      .
      He does not create space for himself when closely defended. When he does it it is not done with technical skill, it is done with size and athleticism.
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      My unsubstantiated suspicion is that when he gets his shots in MLS, it will be as a center back or as a defensive center mid, I.e., #6. His version of a USL #8 is to receive the creativity of others and try to score it.
      .
      While it is logical that Jones as the first Steel signing be thought to have special status, I am not aware of any device applying to Steel-rostered professional non-academy players that gives the Union a right of first refusal. I will try to remember to double check the USL roster rules as summarized in the Press Guide, the best publicly available source of which I am aware. If others have better sources, do share, please! He is not Union property, he is the Steel’s. The Union would have to acquire him, technically and legalistically.

  2. He graduated from John Bartram high school in West Philly 4 years ago his American age is 19 his real age is 23 , I went to school with him

  3. Thanks for the heads up. I worry though about the first touch issue. I think it is the one skill that, if not already developed by the teen years, will not develop over time. For as much as I love LeToux, I can’t say that his first touch has gotten any better over 7 years in MLS.
    .
    Tactical decisions develop with experience, but often not technical skills. Same old story – speed and strength look impressive at the lower levels, but technical ability trumps them at the highest level of competition.
    .
    Ok, off my rant now. I actually wish the kid the best of luck.

    • Touch is hardwired by about ten — then only perfected…. IMO.
      .

    • The touch issue is strange to me. He controls it well in the physical battle of the midfield, but then when we gets around the 18 he falls apart and cannot control it. Puzzling and frustrating considering his potential.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        In the attacking third mentally he is not only ball-winning, he is ball winning AND creating play and usually under more tight pressure as he is a much more immediate threat to the opponent’s goal.

  4. When I receive the ball with time and space, I’m a pretty good player too.
    .
    Course I can keep it in the 70’s on a golf course but am still a hack.

  5. Let just be clear that Jones played at Lower Merion Soccer Club for circa 2 years after coming to the US circa 4 years ago. He then played 1 or 2 years for the Academy. He is not one of those kids ‘developed’ by the Academy since U14 (if he would be he probably would not be as good).

  6. Euro Snob says:

    Derrick Jones has two assists in the USL this season — aside prep work for Conneh’s goal against Wilmington, Jones also provided the pass for Herbers’ goal against Orlando City B

    • Thanks for noting that. USL’s official stats show only one assist — which is why this post links to that — but strangely, the USL official stats also only show Mark McKenzie playing one game, despite him playing in more than one. We’ll keep this as is for now, but we appreciate you noting this.

      (Also, as a note, the reference to 1 assist was inserted by Dylan’s editor, me, so any fault for an oversight — i.e. not explicitly noting the above potential discrepancy — is on me, not Dylan.)

      • Euro Snob says:

        please watch the actual footage … Herbers’ goal comes at 13:45 of game clock as shown on broadcast (20:41 mark of You Tube tape) … even OCB color commentator acknowledges it was Jones with the final pass (after receiving one from Ayuk) … pleasant day either way all the same

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