Even with their new addition, the New England Revolution aren't exactly the Club of Death. But Jermaine Jones should, right off the bat, make them significantly better than they were through the first two-thirds of the 2014 season – and that may be enough to get them a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The Revs currently play a 4-1-4-1 that often looks like a 4-3-3 as Diego Fagundez and the other winger – often Teal Bunbury, but lately Kelyn Rowe – push up higher into the attack. One wide player (usually Fagundez on the left) pinches inside late in attack while the other plays tighter in possession. The central midfield trio – which is where Jones will slot – shares box-to-box duties.
It's a fairly standard and intuitive lineup that just hasn't quite worked, mostly for defensive reasons. New England's got two wins since the end of May, against tail-spinning Colorado and death-spiraling Chivas TBD. They've proved relatively easy to beat with 12 losses, seven of those by multiple goals.
Much of New England's struggles are down to the lack of a true field general in central midfield – a Michael Bradley, a Benny Feilhaber or even a Gonzalo Pineda. Lee Nguyen is a creator who plays something close to a pure No. 10 role; so does Rowe when he's deployed in central midfield, and the same goes for Daigo Kobayashi. That leaves a larger portion of defensive work for the lone d-mid.
I mentioned Bradley, Feilhaber and Pineda because Jones will bring to the Revs a bit of what they each add to their respective teams. Those three guys all have slightly different skillsets and play slightly different roles, but they have roughly equivalent functions: control where on the field the game is played, and do it from central midfield. In so doing, those three put their own team's true attackers in positions to do serious damage (while I typed that Dom Oduro just biffed another Bradley through-ball into the 12th row, but hey, it happens).
Here's what I mean by controlling the game:
For more on Centrality in particular, please read Devin Pleuler's excellent column from last week.
Now, even as they fill a similar role for their teams, they go about it in different ways:
Jones is a safe bet to be somewhere in the middle of them. He's born and bred in Germany, so we know we can hit the long-ball:
But we also know he can play keep-ball a little bit when he's locked in.
"Locked in" will be an issue on the other side of the ball as well. Here's what I wrote way back in Week 3:
New England were a trendy pick to compete at the top of the East this season, and on the face of it, it makes sense: They were a young team in 2013 that jelled and improved, and why shouldn't that continue?
Because now they've been scouted, and now they're being overrun in central midfield. And that's causing a cascade of positional issues that's led to this early-season sputter.
For a variety of reasons – mostly injuries, but partially the run of white-hot form New England hit in mid-spring – Heaps didn't stick with the double pivot. With Jones in town, he will.
Jones is not a No. 6, even if he tackles like one. He's going to roam all over the field chasing the ball, acting as a No. 8, and that means the Revs are going to have that physical presence they've been missing – someone whose first job is making the opponent struggle playing through the most profitable parts of the field.
USMNT fans are probably saying "Yeah, but that never worked with Jones and Bradley!" and I'd totally agree. That's because Bradley, like Jones, is a No. 8, a box-to-box midfielder who just can not (will not) be tethered to a particular spot. But put Kyle Beckerman behind them...
Now, Caldwell is no Beckerman. But he's smart, and he's a good passer, and he's shown exactly zero selfishness so far this season. If Heaps says "Scott, hold your ground and make sure it's easier for Jermaine to run around like a shin-seeking missile," that's just what Caldwell will do.
It will work. Jones will surely run himself out of some plays, and will occasionally have "effort" failures like this:
That's him simply failing to track Celso Borges, leaving DaMarcus Beasley to defend the back post 1-v-3 on a break. At 32, that's not something Jones is going to "work through" – it's just who he is as a player.
And honestly, it's not enough to find the slightest bit of negativity in this from a New England point of view. The Revs got exactly the kind of midfield presence they needed, and Jones should fit seamlessly with the talent that's already there.