Tattooed biceps gleaming in the Brazilian sun, dreadlocks trailing in his wake, Jermaine Jones has been one of the standout players in a U.S. squad that remains undefeated at the 2014 World Cup. But it’s not just the 32-year-old midfielder’s Lenny Kravitz-like appearance that’s been eye-catching.
Two games in, and Jones has been one of the USA’s best players in Brazil. In addition to scoring a vital equalizer against Portugal, he set up Clint Dempsey’s early goal against Ghana and prior to a late strike by Jon Brooks, was arguably the best American player in the match.
Jones, who was born in Germany but lived in Mississippi and Chicago as a child, was the first of several German-Americans to have been recruited by the USMNT. Like the other Germans on the team, his father was an American serviceman and his mother German.
As a youth player, Jones earned several caps playing for Germany. However as he graduated to senior level, he found his opportunities limited. Although he was selected to play in a 2008 friendly against Austria, he was passed over for Euro 2008. With German coach Jogi Low preferring the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira in the defensive midfield role, Jones realized there was no real place for him on the German team.
So it was that in 2009, then 27-year-old Jones announced his availability to be selected by the U.S. An injury that ruled him out of the entire 2009-2010 season for his German Bundesliga club, Schalke, prevented him from being called up for the 2010 World Cup. But then coach Bob Bradley, father of U.S. midfielder, Michael Bradley, gave him his USMNT debut against Poland the following October.
By the following summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, Jones, who’d been nicknamed “German” Jones by the American-based players on the squad, had become a regular fixture of the U.S. team. He scored his first goal for the Yanks in a Gold Cup clash against Jamaica and played a key role in getting the U.S. to the final they eventually lost to Mexico.
Although the tattooed, dreadlocked Jones has been branded with something of a “bad boy” image by the German media, he is actually a dedicated family man. He married his wife in 2007 and together the couple has five kids. Jones, for his part, takes umbrage with his bad boy label.
“I think I am judged superficially sometimes,” said the player to ussoccer.com. “When they see me, they say I’m a tattooed bad boy. David Beckham is tattooed and people don’t call him a street kid.”
And it’s not just in Germany where Jones is sometimes seemingly judged too harshly. Some U.S. soccer fans have been critical of the player’s propensity for being shown red and yellow cards, while others feel he tries to do too much on his own.
But in the 2014 World Cup, he’s been one of the USA's best players as the Yanks attempt to fight their way out of one of the toughest groups in the competition. And in doing so, he's silenced many of his critics and earned quite a few new fans.
With more than a decade of experience playing in the German Bundesliga, against many of the same players the U.S. will face in their final Group G clash against Germany Thursday, Jones is likely to be one of the players Jurgen Klinsmann will most rely on as the USA attempts to clear the final hurdle to get out of the "Group of Death" and make the round of 16.