Analysis

A closer look at Derrick Jones in the USOC

Photos Rob Simmons

Many fans of the Philadelphia Union looked forward to watching the 4th round U. S. Open Cup match against the Richmond Kickers Tuesday night because they hoped to see Derrick Jones playing on the pitch, to judge his progress.

Keep in mind that both clubs engaged in squad rotation. Richmond head coach Leigh Cowlishaw, like Jim Curtin, used the match to play parts of his roster which have not started regularly. The only names on Richmond’s bench who were not regular starters were the reserve goalkeeper and former starter turned veteran supersub Fred Owusu Sekyere. Enthusiasm for a 5-0 scoreline should be tempered by coach Cowlishaw’s approach.

Jones has started 10 of Bethlehem’s 12 games so far this season. In seven of those, he replaced defensive midfielder James Chambers, Bethlehem’s captain, who was injured. In the other three he played alongside Chambers at center mid.

So far, it appears Jones has been playing with Bethlehem to improve his offensive creativity. Those are my words, not Curtin’s. At least once, the coach’s words  have been “we want more.”

Jones’s first half against Richmond

Derrick Jones’s first touch Tuesday illustrated perfectly why Curtin wants more. It was eerily reminiscent of Jones’ first MLS start in 2017 in the opener against Vancouver. The ball came to him when he was in unpressured space, and he immediately passed it less than 10 yards to Haris Medunjanin. It felt as though Jones was saying, “I don’t want this thing. You’re a better player than I am. Take it.” While Jones practices with Medunjanin daily, he has not played in games with him since early 2017.

The pattern — deference to one’s elders is one way we think about it — did not improve significantly in the first half. Jones regressed from the progress made with Bethlehem this season in seizing responsibility to be a creative engine within his side.

Jones v. Richmond Kickers USOC match 6/5/18

Has Chambers with the Steel repeatedly encouraged Jones to try creative things on his own, not to defer to his elder?  We would guess “probably,” given Chambers’ teaching instincts and conscious awareness of his purpose with the Steel. The Irishman goes incandescent in practice sometimes when a teammate has not tried the creative pass his captain just saw available to him.

While Haris Medunjanin recently went incandescent himself in the face of injustice in Atlanta, he seems more reserved in his usual on-pitch approach and may not yet have made it clear to his younger colleague to try things himself when opportunity arises. He is focused on winning the game, not teaching the game.

If Jim Curtin was gently critical of Jones’s play after the game in public, imagine what he may have been at halftime in private.

Jones’s second half

Jones came out of halftime looking for creative chances. In practically his first act of the second half, Jones collected the ball, dribbled to the end line and placed a perfect grass-cutting cross inside the six to Jay Simpson in the 49th minute for the fifth and final goal.

He continued to look for creative chances the rest of the half, and when he was sure he saw one, he went for it. But a 5-0 scoreline against Richmond’s bench had taken the edge off the game, and nothing further clicked for scores.

We speculate that Jones’s central channel colleague, Medunjanin, heard an unspoken halftime message to adjust his play to leave more of the creativity to the younger man, because the Bosnian did not seem to be as far forward as often when in possession of the ball. That also could be a No. 6 protecting a five-goal lead.

Assessment

Captain Derrick Jones waiting for the opening whistle v NYRB2 5/16/18

Jones did in the second half what he has done recently for the Steel: Strong, ball-winning, opposition-disrupting defense, physically dominant dribbling with increasingly reliable quick feet, and excellent short passes to find teammates both for possession and to spring them for opportunity.

What remains to come is longer creative passing, a la Medunjanin and Chambers, who are the two best at it in the entire organization. Those who watch Jones play for the Steel have seen a hint or two that he has the vision prerequisite for the longer stuff. But the confidence in his technical ability to perfectly deliver under game conditions has not yet arrived.

Jones may need a re-teach from Earnie Stewart before Stewart leaves, focusing on the idea that it is okay to fail if what you are trying to do is the right thing.

When Chambers went down and all of a sudden Jones had to replace “The Man,” he grew into the role successfully. His methods were different from the captain’s.

Haris Medunjanin’s presence Tuesday may have disrupted Derrick Jones’s mindset. Curtin may have had to “vigorously encourage” him to alter that mindset in the halftime locker-room. In the second half, there were certainly intervals when he was doing much more to create play.

Our advice to the Union decision-makers is to take yet another patience pill and don’t even think the words “give up.” Derrick Amaniampong Jones may need to learn by being forced to do; thrown into the pool to sink or swim, an admittedly high-risk teaching technique that may cost his club some games. Each one of us has a different learning style, and responding to an immediate, real, threatening need is one of them.

7 Comments

  1. Good article, but honestly I think the premise (as first introduced by Curtin, not you) is just BS.

    Jones is 20 and of course has room to grow. But where is this stupid attitude like he needs to be Inesta to get a start comes from? The kid has all the tools RIGHT NOW to be a disruptive #6. He is huge, he has the range to cover the entire backline, and he has enough of a first touch and passing sense not to be Brian Carrol.

    Why are we acting like he needs to be Kante before he can grace the first team?

    And worse yet, Curtin parades career journeyman and former RB Warren Cravelle around like he can pass like Messi?

    I just don’t like what Curtin is doing with Jones. I am all for pushing kids to get better, but this just seems unfair and silly. Jones can contribute RIGHT NOW as a rangy #6 against dangerous offensive teams. That’s enough for him to start here and there. He is only 20 – the rest will come in time.

    • KenZo Lo says:

      Not going to agree here. There is plenty of time for Jones, Curtin has a mandate to win, and right now he has use Jones for one of Dockal, Medjunanin, or Bedoya. If Jones wants some of that tick, he has to be creative.

      I know that we’ve seen kids come and go- was watching FC Cinnci and saw Bone and McLaughlin tearing it up- but the Union right now is getting talent from the pipeline first team mins. It’s not what it was.

      And as a coach, saying to a player, show me this and you will progress in playing time- that is good coaching. I think Curtin sees Jones as potentially a monster player, and he is pushing him.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      To be fair, Creavalle seems to come on as a red card/injury substitute and not getting a lot of minutes otherwise whereas Jones is getting real minutes in Bethlehem. I’d rather that be the situation rather than the other way around.
      .
      Hopefully we’ll see Jones get some time tonight.

    • Just to correct some things, Creavalle is a CDM who was tried out at RB and failed, it’s not like that was his initial position. He has also played some pretty good games and looked pretty good against Atlanta last league game, including picking out a pretty decent assist.
      .
      Jones clearly hasn’t shown better than him (or Bedoya, Medunjanin, or Fontana) to the coaches and that’s the only reason he’s not playing. He could contribute right now but not as well as other players. The young guys who have played are showing better than the people in front and that’s why they keep playing. The goal of the Union is to win, the goal of the Steel is to develop.
      .
      All that being said, I’d like to see him get the start with Creavlle this next game.

  2. Buccistick says:

    Dear Jim Curtin:
    *
    If you wanted Jones to be a “creative engine” Tuesday night, why’d you field him alongside Medunjanin and Fontana?! Of course the kid’s gonna give it to them until the result is beyond doubt. You’re not the only one who’s been watching Medunjanin thread killer passes!
    *
    As a spectator, I sure as hell don’t want to see Medunjanin play defense. (You know what I mean … but same applies to Fontana’s deployment: the balance of their energies should go to unlocking opposition defenses. Of course I want everyone in the middle third to play like Iniesta.)
    *
    Side note: if you haven’t noticed that incomparable #8 play D, that’s because the man is (was … sniff) like a ballwinning ninja. On his day, Iniesta would just sort of shadow up on ballcarriers and — barely making contact — next thing you know he was the one with the ball and the opponent was the one kicking at shadows.
    *
    Seriously, the way Curtin took Jones down in his presser sounded to me like a case of “Yeah, not a good performance from Derrick … for what that game was …” — and that’s all actual direct quote — “… **because he didn’t do what I asked, and I’m the coach.**” With that dis, Curtin was addressing Jones as much as he was answering the reporter in the moment. If Tim’s excellent thesis has any merit, at least be honest enough to say, “… but then at halftime, I told [or reminded] him to step it up, you’re better than these guys — and he improved.” You don’t even have to conclude that with “… because he did what I told him to do”!
    *
    tl;dr: I’m looking forward to seeing Jones set up with clearer priorities and personnel against MLS oppo in a couple hours. Jim, don’t f* up the XI again. I’ve already lowered my expectations in anticipation that you’re gonna roll out the CJ tape yet again. (Why does it take red cards to two of our internationals to open his eyes?)
    *
    Thank you for this timely focus piece, Tim!

  3. Tim Jones says:

    Jim Curtin is on record as saying that Bedoya and Medunjanin don’t even think about playing against Richmond without the red cards in Atlanta.
    .
    The plan was readjusted I am willing to bet to get Medunanin game minutes to keep him sharp.
    .
    When the decision is made it is not a certainty that there would be an Open Cup game with which to do so during the World Cup Break. Curtin would only have known he was facing a B side from Richmond about an hour before tap.
    .
    Keep in mind Howard Baker’s mantra during the Watergate hearings, “What did [he] know? And when did he know it?” [Baker was a Republican Senator from Tennessee, and the ranking minority member of the Senate Select Committee, a k a the Earvin Committee.]

  4. Agree that tonight should be creavalle night man-making Giovinco. If Giovinco gets shut down, with all the TFC injuries, the U win. Would love to see Jones playing, but don’t think that man-making Giovinco is the way to start that. Maybe start Jones next game.

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