CHESTER, Pa.—Matt Jones just became a father a few days ago. On Wednesday night, he’ll get his first MLS start, too.
During a weekly press conference, Union head coach Jim Curtin revealed Tuesday that Jones will get the call in net for Wednesday’s game vs. the Columbus Crew at Talen Energy Stadium (7 pm ET, MLS LIVE) in place of Andre Blake, who is with Jamaica ahead of Copa America Centenario.
“It’s always difficult to lose Andre, but Matt is more than a capable backup,” Curtin said. “He’s riding a little bit of a high right now having his first-born son, so he gets a little shout-out here.
“Like all goalkeepers, Matt has waited for his opportunity. Only one can start, and we expect Matt to have a strong performance. He’s been excellent in training and he’s confident right now.”
Curtin said it was a tough choice picking between Jones and John McCarthy, who started 11 league games as a rookie last season, also helping lead Philly to the U.S. Open Cup final. But with the help of Union goalkeeper coach Oka Nikolov, he determined Jones’ professional experience would help him rise to the occasion against a Columbus team that’s fresh off a four-goal outburst.
Jones – who will be the first Englishman to ever play an MLS game for the Union – played several seasons in Europe, including top-flight games in Portugal with Belenenses before coming to Philly this offseason.
Since then, he’s been waiting for his opportunity while Blake has sparkled.
“It was an adjustment for me at the start of the season because pretty much everywhere I’ve been in my career, I’ve been the No. 1,” Jones said, after Tuesday’s training session. “But I knew the situation coming in, and obviously Andre took his chance and has put together a great start to the season.
“Everyone wants to play. I want to play. Johnny wants to play. So it’s frustrating sitting on the bench. But at the end of the day, you just have to be patient, wait for your chance and take it when it comes. I’ll be more than ready to play.”
Playing time aside, Jones has enjoyed his first season in MLS. He decided to move to the United States so his wife – whom he met while playing collegiate soccer at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut – could be closer to family.
That will certainly come in handy now that they've welcomed their first child, a healthy boy named Jackson, on Thursday.
“It’s not a normal week, but it’s one of those weeks you’ll remember for the rest of your life,” Jones said. “We’ve always wanted kids and we’re lucky enough to have a happy, healthy little boy at home. Obviously there are a few adjustments we have to make off the field, but it’s not going to affect me on the field. If anything, it’ll give me a little bit of extra motivation. I couldn’t be happier.”
Jones laughed that his wife has been taking one for the team and letting him get some sleep ahead of his first MLS game. But even if Jones does lose a little sleep, Curtin – a big family man who has three kids – agreed that being a dad is a positive thing for an athlete.
“It is a roller coaster of emotions,” said the Union coach. “To have your first-born is a big deal. I tend to see the positives in that. It makes you a little less selfish. You’re playing for a little guy now too. It’s a special feeling he’ll have.
“You do have to keep things in check. I told him today it’s just another game … There are always emotions, especially with a child being born. But Matt’s a pro. He’ll step up.”