Commentary / MLS / Union

It’s time for Derrick Jones

Photo by Paul Rudderow

Here’s the thing about Haris Medunjanin: He’s an extremely gifted soccer player. He has a great touch, and he can work some magic on the ball. He can dribble around defenders with ease and pick out a congested pass. Sometimes, he’ll flash some real brilliance.

The problem is, as Philadelphia Union supporters saw in last weekend’s home opener against Toronto, Medunjanin is an extremely gifted soccer player with real limitations. To put it bluntly, if Michael Bradley is scampering past you in any fashion, that is a real cause for concern. On both of Bradley’ goals on Saturday, Medunjanin failed to mark him as he ran into the box and eventually splashed the back of the net. Now, it would be a bit unfair to say the Bosnian is why the Union lost the match, but in the current climate with a brand new formation and a brand new outlook, the No. 6 role is absolutely vital. That performance can not happen every time.

Philly is no longer sitting back in an attempt to win the possession battle and slinging the ball up the wings. A staple of the new 4-4-2 diamond setup is almost constant high pressure. For it to work, the midfielders must be able to dart around the pitch and issue that pressure for extended periods of time. Can Medunjanin actually do that? Possibly, but after that Toronto display, it is perfectly reasonable to ask the question. He doesn’t have Alejandro Bedoya right next to him anymore. You can’t simply ask Bedoya to track back on every possession in this new setup. Ilsinho won’t be asked to track, either. Medunjanin will often be on his own and he has to be able to affectively track. The work rates have to be high enough. If they aren’t, find someone that can do that job.

Someone like Derrick Jones, for instance.

To be left out of the starting XI on opening day was one thing, but to be left out of the 18 all together was very puzzling. On paper, this is Jones’ year to shine. He’s a 6-foot-four defensively minded midfielder that is far more mobile than he looks — the type of No. 6 that fits snuggly into a 4-4-2 press. Theoretically, it would be a technical player like Medunjanin that would lose some playing time in the diamond setup, not Jones.

So, why wasn’t he in the squad at all? Only Jim Curtin can answer that. At his weekly press conference on Wednesday, his answer mostly centered around the lineup being attack-minded — in other words, there wasn’t a place for Jones. Well, if that is true, perhaps conceding three goals to a struggling Toronto side will change that lineup a bit. Not to say the score would have emphatically changed with Jones in the lineup, but it’s highly unlikely that Bradley is beating him to the ball with ease in those spots.

Could it be a training thing? Maybe he hasn’t been performing well enough in training. If that’s the case, so be it. Only the Union coaching staff can monitor that regularly and make a call based on consistent results. If it’s not that case, though, what gives? We know Jones isn’t too young anymore. He made his debut two seasons ago as a 20-year-old and has gained some valuable experience since then. Also, age isn’t particularly a factor in Major League Soccer. L.A. Galaxy just debuted a 16-year-old and Tyler Adams, a standout on the U.S. Men’s National team, flourished as a teenager for the Red Bulls. If you are good enough to play, you are out there.

Just to be clear, Jones is not the overall player Medunjanin is. He doesn’t have the same touch, creativity, or workmanship on the ball. But this isn’t a simple like-for-like situation here. Jones can undeniably do things Medunjanin cannot do. Jones will track a striker into the box and make slide tackles in the midfield. Their work rates are vastly different. The question is which one do the Union need more right now.

This week’s signing of box-to-box midfielder Jamiro Monteiro presumably throws another wrench into the midfield dynamic, but Curtin was also clear in his presser that Monteiro will not affect Jones’ spot on the depth chart. Jones is a pure No. 6, while Monteiro is versatile and can play just about anywhere in the midfield.

So, that is pretty much that. Either Jones gets time or he doesn’t. It’s not like he has to start every match, either. Medunjanin starts and when Philly builds a two-goal lead, Jones comes on to lock up a win. When Michael Bradley is darting around the pitch like he’s 25 again, Jones comes on and puts an end to it. A midfield of Marco Fabian, Bedoya, and Ilsinho is about as attack-minded as you can get. Do you really need a fourth?

Union Sporting Director Ernst Tanner reassured the fans this week that he trusts Medunjanin and believes in his ability. “He can play that, but we need to assist him.” Ok, that’s fair. A little help would go a long way and he is surely capable of performing well in this setup. But what if you have a guy that doesn’t need help? What if he’s sitting on the bench?

If there was ever a time for Derrick Jones, it’s right now.

39 Comments

  1. HELL yeAH ITS TIME FOR DERRICK ONES LETS GO

    I can’t wait to wait him be an important defensive piece in away games and help the defense only to continue watch Haris start home games bcoz AGGRESIVE.

    Edit: Seriously though, Curtins double standards regarding this are infuriating. We all know if a player like Rosenberry or Jones himself watched the opposing midfielder run past him to score 2 goals, we would never see them start again.

    Yet Haris gets this pass. And I have to ask, is he really worth it? Yes he is pretty good offensively. But is he THAT good? Really? Is he that good that it’s worth the real risk that he is going to give up goals.

    And I’m tried of even Ernst’s attitude of “we have to protect him”. I hate that mindset. The 6 should be the one protecting the backline. I hate asking Bedoya and the other 8 and the CBs to constantly have to worry about what Haris isn’t doing. I feel like it’s a self imposed handicap. It’s hard enough to win games with 11 players, so we are just making it harder on ourselves by basically playing with 10 players on defense. And is Haris good enough on offense that its like having 12 playes on offense? No.

  2. Consistency in practice was the theme I took away from Jim Curtin’s long, careful discussion of Jones. And as Christian says well above, only the Union technical staff see and evaluate those.
    .
    Careful followers of Jones will remembered they have heard that song before.
    .
    In the replays of Bradley’s goals, it looked to me as though he timed his runs superbly after correctly diagnosing the Union’s defense when the ball is level with the corner of the box out wide. There are two midfielders in a zone in front of the center backs. Medunjanin both times was focused on the ball and the threat out wide. Both times Bradley reserved his run for a count or two to allow him to check behind him and then re-focus ball side.
    .
    Bradley is a wily old veteran, and his side on the day was missing not only those scoring stars who have departed but also the one who is still recovering from injury. He filled the breach for the first time in a couple of years.
    .
    It reminded me of the game against Montreal when the Union had a three-goal league and Nacho Piatti decided to fix it, and personally changed the game just before halftime. You knew he was going to do it, the Union on the field knew he was going to do it. There simply was nothing anybody could do to stop him.
    .
    Bradley is not THAT good; he had surprise on his side and has guaranteed that he should not ever again this season.

  3. I’m torn on this. I was shocked he wasn’t in the 18, I figured he had to be hurt. I was pissed Haris started and not surprised he failed at that position. I was annoyed at Jim Curtin and want to blame him. Curtin saying Jones hasn’t practiced well was a little eye opening though. Even still I think Curtin can have some blame here like when he banished Rosenberry for a year. But when you look back at a few years of history with Jones, he never really get extended time. Are we all just hoping? Are we fooled just wanting the next big thing out of our youth guys? I’m not sure.
    .
    I think I ultimately settle on the fact that I don’t know thst we’re making waves this year anyway, and combined with the fact that Haris DEFINITELY doesn’t fit, I’d much rather have Jones try and fail then see Crevalle start. So let’s do it, bring on the Jones period.

    • Honestly Curtin can take his practice and shove it. Let me know when Curtin actually shows up on game day. F*** him. I don’t trust his eye one bit. It’s honestly a load of crap that a player has to be great during the week to play on the weekend.
      .
      Ernst, make the team better in ONE move. FIRE CURTIN.

      • OneManWolfpack says:

        Agreed. Curtin has used the “practice” excuse for 2 years. Play Jones. If he can’t hack it… play someone else. To never give him an honest crack is just pathetic

      • I would tend to agree with you here. In the end how much will it hurt them to give JOnes a run?

  4. Maybe DJ isn’t much of a practice player and/or he’s just not that good. It’s believable. I think fans might be reacting to the Union’s marketing of youth as the solution to the team’s woes.

    .

    The casual observer might also notice the Union’s midfield was on the older side.. which goes against the youth narrative we’ve read about over the years. The Union are a team dedicated to playing the kids (22 isn’t that young, but whatever).. unless it’s in actual games.

    .

    What’s interesting is how certain players are held accountable, while the mistakes and shortcomings of other (Medunjanin) get written off with ease. This extends to the Coach as well.

  5. Do I want players to practice well? Sure. Do I want players to kill themselves trying to play well in practice during the week? Hell no. The game isn’t played in practice.
    .
    Haris plays shitty defense. He has NO speed. His left foot is not good enough to excuse his lack of speed and defense. His corners and free kicks have sucked since the middle of last season. Curtin needs to take off his rose colored glasses when it comes to his veterans.

  6. pragmatist says:

    Jones isn’t some type of magic bullet that will cure all of this team’s ills. And the fact that he has had consistent issues in training for years is disconcerting. Maybe he would be a better game day option, but if he can’t manage to care during the week, why would ANY coach, not just Curtin, put him on the field?
    .
    Yes, our ideal description of what Jones does would be the perfect complement to the new formation. But 1) we may be overvaluing him due to our desperation for improvement, and 2) he could really be that much of a malcontent/irresponsibly player that no coach will play him.
    .
    With a little luck, this will all be moot and Monteiro will combine with Haris perfectly and we can move forward. But I have a feeling this is going to be a sticking point all season long.
    .
    Looking back, it’s now that I wish someone could have convinced Yaro to slide up the field to the CDM/6 spot. His skill set was just about perfect to transition to that spot. (Again…maybe I’m overvaluing out of desperation to see an improved team that actually matters on the league landscape.)

    • Chad Boardman says:

      i’m not sure anyone who thinks Jones should play thinks he’s eric dier. it’s just there are a few ways to set this formation in the 4 man midfield up to work, and having 1 player who actually plays defense isn’t it.

      maybe jones is irresponsible or a malcontent. but if that is true, why is he still on the team? he’s been in the system for years. are we expecting his personality to change at age 22? i have a hard time believing that a guy with a shitty attitude can stick for years in an organization with out next level talent. if he had that, he would be on the field, no?

      my main issue with the “he’s not producing in practice” argument isn’t the concept at large, but the idea that we believe Curtain is a legitimate elevator of talent or quality. Remember Richie Marquez? he was buried in the depth chart, behind midfielders in some cases. then 3 guys go down injured, and he doesn’t come out of the lineup for 2 years. Some how i doubt he miraculously got alot better in practice after other guys got hurt. a more recent example – last year – is Burke. He played a few times early on and looked better than CJ every time. he had/has his draw backs but it was clear to anyone who watched (except Curtin) that Burke had something in the moment that CJ didn’t. So why did it take so long to make the switch? was that a practice issue also?

      those are the examples i remember off the top of my head but i feel like I could come up with a few more if I thought about it long enough.

  7. el Pachyderm says:

    This is my issue in two parts.
    .
    I listened to Jim’s presser yesterday.
    .
    He speaks with forked tongue. On one hand how a person is able to consistently perform in practice is paramount… yet he then states, “practice always tells you a good part of the story but the games tell you everything.”
    .
    .
    If you have a guy: dominates the competition in USL, which he did last season, plays well in preseason, which he did, shows well for a National Team in the World Cup, which he did, starts the first two games last season and plays well, which he did, gets spot first team minutes all along and is generally an asset on the field….
    .
    Where is the incongruity?
    .
    Philadelphia Union at every level are fascinated with size and speed and strength… here you have a natural USS Destroyer… gifted athletically, big, fast and strong as shit…. yet he can’t get on the field.
    .
    Next… if the ‘best’ the team played in preseason was with Derrick Jones on the field and Haris on the left of the diamond cameo which from my eyes was the case… why not send that unit on the field in a generally and fairly important first game when your season’s first six weeks are brutal. You get the offense… AND you get the defense. Sit Ilsinho who proved his worth as a devastating change of pace mid to late game substitute last year..
    .
    I’ve considered all along, maybe Derrick can’t play.
    .
    I watch a shit ton of footy. My eyes tell me he can… especially in this league.
    .

    • Tanner keeps talking up Medunjanin too which confuses me. I mean I don’t want to make to much of one game, but Medunjanin has been poor for pretty much a whole season running now. I just don’t see him as good enough to be building a system around. The midfield and wingbacks in this system are supposed to be about versatility yet we have 3 guys out there who are 1 dimension starting (Medunjanin, Gaddis, and Ilsinho). Hopefully this is just a first game/early season thing.
      .
      It seems to me that Fontana may be slipping into Derrick Jones territory as well. Both guys have looked decent at worst every game they have been in but then nothing.

      • HopkinsMD says:

        A. — I always assume that public affirmations are like a shield for the conversations held behind closed doors.

      • I agree it’s coach speak, but so is saying that a player isn’t doing well enough in practice too yet everyone here is killing Curtin over that remark.
        .
        All I know is that Tanner’s words and actions have all pointed to keeping Medunjanin in the lineup. Personally I wanted him out last year.

    • I can’t imagine a planet where Haris practices better than Jones.
      .
      That would basically mean Jones stands still at practice if the bar is being set at what Haris does defensively during games.
      .
      Whether it’s Jones or not, we can’t have Haris protecting the back line. If Curtin doesn’t see that right now, I don’t think I need to see him coach any more games.

    • You know what I just realized?

      I’m reading this, and I find it difficult to dispute el Pachy’s argument. And I realize that I trust el Pachy’s assessment of Derrick Jones more than I trust Jim Curtin’s assessment of Derrick Jones.

      That not only tells me something about Derrick Jones… it tells me something about Jim Curtin.

      P.S. I have been commenting for 3 weeks now that Jones needs to start at the 6 instead of Haris.

    • Tim jones says:

      For whatever it’s worth, el P, we saw the same thing in preseason.
      .
      He did make the game day 18 consistently the second half of last year.
      .
      I as confused as the rest of us.
      .

  8. I’ll take El Pachy’s word that he dominated USL, because I didn’t get to watch it.
    If that is the case it is time to either play him or fire/trade him. His skills eclipse Creavalle and there is no other legit #6 on the team, unless they play Monteiro. But IMO that would be counterproductive because it wouldn’t solve the problem of whether Jones should be on the team.
    Jones is old enough, has the experience and the skill set. It’s time for the test drive.
    If he succeeds, great! Problem solved and team’s better.
    If he fails, fire/trade him, add a new player with potential. Problem solved and the team’s better.

  9. If new guy makes the 18 for the next game,and Jones doesn’t, than I think we have our answer. It could be the coach dosen’t trust him. Could be he is not the player we think or want him to be!

  10. YES. This.
    .
    Haris was horrible in all aspects last week, not just on defense. Most of his outlet passes flew way past Fafa.
    .
    I was one of the lucky STH’s to win a renewal raffle to watch training and have lunch with Jim and Ernst last week. It was an incredible experience, and Jim couldn’t have been nicer or more open. But one thing he said, which seems to contradict the argument for not playing Jones, is that it’s not always about practice with all players. He gave Bedoya as an example of someone who sucks in practice but he knows will get up for the game. Of course, Bedoya and Jones are not the same player or same skill level, but there’s no reason not to give Jones a run out at the 6 for a stretch of games. The base of the diamond needs grit and defense.

  11. The only homegrowns Curtain has regularly played are centerbacks. Coincidence?….I think not. The practice excuse is such garbage. Hey Jim, remember how in awe you were of Burke after match 1 2018? I believe something was said like “never seen that out of Burke in practice.” Then still ran Sapong out for the next 6 starts.
    That presser yesterday…..whew buddy, had to grab my waders.

  12. We could roll out the same Curtin comments regarding Rosenberry in his second season.

    Practice is were Curtin believes a player can make a difference.

    Does anyone really think Harris is busting it at practice each day?

    It is Curtin’s built in excuse for not playing someone.

  13. excuse me but since when practice does not indicate, fitness, skill, complement of play, willingness to improve. DJ has the looks and size but when he has played he has been a dog. I would play Fontana b4 him, as for Haris he did have a poor showing and should be challenged, as for Curtin we have to trust his judgement, he has the facts to make up a line up. So all of you that think you know better shove it

    • Excuse me, but do you mean the judgement that let Wenger start match after match after match, not contributing to the offense one iota? Maybe you mean the judgement that let Sapong start match after match after match last year and cost this team a home playoff game? Is that the judgement you are talking about? How about you shove your fan fiction and throw out the kool-aide, as it’s been spiked.
      .
      P.S. Both those players are gone btw in case you can’t see past your Curtin love. Why? Because they weren’t good enough. And somehow the coach that picked them, who also isn’t good enough, is still here.

      • I do not drink the KOOL AID, but i try to be fair, it does no good to go off the cuff and say someone is good enough to make the team better when we dont know the specifics, the coach wants to win and demands a good work ethic, so it behhoves a coach to play those players that fit into a plan.
        ALL4U

      • Well it wasn’t off the cuff. My eyes tell me that Haris isn’t good enough. I may not have watched as much footy as some here, but I do watch a good bit. It’s pretty much the only sport I watch anymore. What my eyes also tell me is that Jones provides what is needed when most of the team’s midfield and it’s outside backs are all pushed forward. Namely, recovery speed and ball winning. Neither of these is Haris able to provide. My eyes also see a coach making the same mistakes in year 4-5 as he did in years 1-2. This should indicate to you, and certainly does to me, that the coach is not good enough. It should also indicate that maybe his judgement skills are surely lacking. Feel free to also go back to the day before the match, and even further, where you will see my comments about how Haris wasn’t the right player to put out in the base of the diamond. Especially not with Ilsinho on the right. So, off the cuff? No, not hardly. Trust this coach? To quote Roger Daltrey: I “Wont get fooled again”.

    • DJ isn’t a dog. After makes a pass he moves into space. He can dribble and get forward , he can defend and Disrupt opponents plays. He the touch as well. I think the only thing that needs improvement is his tenacity. Meanwhile, Trusty makes two huge defensive mistakes last year in two critical matches , playoffs and the us open cup. In the first match against Toronto this season, on the first goal by Bradley, he could have stepped up and covered Harris Medunjanins mistake for not marking Bradley but no , he was caught looking at the ball as well and in no mans land. Also, his distributing out of the back is poor. But we see him every fucking game. So, I’m tired of hearing Jims excuses about he has to do better. Curtin has favorites and doesn’t have the balls to try jones and doesn’t see his potential. He has higher standards for certain players instead of all players. You wanna make this team better Jim?? Put jones in and let him play. Take Trusty out. They need a D mid.

  14. I find it difficult to get too wound up about the Jones situation. I think we’ve all been ginned up about one player or another over the years, sometimes to the point crying “disaster” after they were send on their way, and what has become of them?

    Can anyone name a single player that left here in the last 5-6 years (specifically) that went on to any enviable (or even average) success in MLS (or even USL)? Did any significant talent actually get “missed”? I don’t think so. (I have an Amobi Okugo bobble head on my desk, and he’s shaking his head “no”.)

    If the best you can point to is Wenger or Maidana, I’d say you’re really stretching the definition of “success”.

    And if they didn’t have success anywhere else, there had to be a pretty good reason for that. I’ll trust the guys who are paid to evaluate this stuff.

    • That’s US Open Cup Champion, Andrew Wenger, thank you very much ; )

      .

      But yeah, players generally don’t go on to bigger and better things after playing in Chester.

    • I would say Harvey has had some success after being on the union.

    • Neither of you read that very carefully, did you?
      .
      Wenger had ONE medicore year at best after leaving Philly, then two crap years, and then retired. Oh yeah, and he SUCKED here.
      .
      Harvey falls outside my stated envelope of 5-6 years, Harvey hasn’t been with the team since 2011. Nice that he’s had a servicable career.

  15. John Harris says:

    Broken record: out coached. Vanney anticipated a weakness and exploited it with a dude that otherwise doesn’t score goals.

  16. Maybe it’s time for Monteiro?

  17. Reading all this and thinking about Curtin, I cant help but think about another guy who coached in this town for years whose philosophy was so ingrained in his coaching that his coaching never evolved – Andy Reid. My (amateur) analysis of Reid is that he learned the game as an offensive lineman and never could change how he looked at it.
    Maybe we have the same thing with Curtin. Central fullbacks need to be smart, anticipate, be gritty & never take a play off. Creativity and talent are less important than game smarts, veteran savvy & work ethic.
    Maybe that is how he evaluates every player. Interestingly Chris Albright was a central fullback too.
    Of course that said – the average age of our back line also seems to disprove this theory unless you argue that he has already known them for years since they came up through the academy.

  18. The same player can be an asset in one system and an anathema in another. Harris is an example of this. Last year the system allowed us to take advantage of his strengths and try to minimize his weaknesses. New system, new responsibilities, and these do not play to his strengths. We need a defensive stopper and outside midfielders who can press and go box to box. We have a 10. I’m not saying that Harris is not a good player, we just don’t need what he is good at for this system.

    Obviously Curtin is loyal to Harris, as he has been with other veterans, but as a coach you cant dwell on past performances, you have to focus on how a player helps you today, in the system you are using today. If you take names out of the equation and look at characteristics of play, Harris wouldn’t be starting on any team playing this system.

    Obviously you can only play the hand that you are dealt, but I don’t see how trying to make accommodations for this specific player makes sense. Forcing square pegs into round holes doesn’t work. It failed for Mourinho at Man U with Pogba, it is failing for Sari at Chelsea with Kante and initial signs are that it will fail here. Jones or Creavalle are better suited for the role. Play one of them. Trust the System.

    Use Harris when the situation, or the opponent, warrants a change in the system. Starting him in this system does not give us the best chance at winning.

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