COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – It’s been said you can either die a hero or live long enough to become the villain. In Jermaine Jones, the Colorado Rapids have found both.
“When you know people hate you, you get respect from that,” Jones told reporters this week. “If you walk into the stadium and [fans] don’t like you, you know that they think you’re a good player. They’re scared.”
Inside the locker room, things are different.
“A lot of people who don’t know me will say, 'Oh, he’s a bad guy.' " Jones said. “But once teammates get to know me, they can say he’s the guy, shoot him a text and he’s there.”
He may not be a bad guy, but his chippy on-field style certainly was an attraction for Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni.
“Any time you are going up against a guy like Jermaine, you know you are going to get bruised up, every ball is going to be contested and he’s going to play some hard tackles,” Mastroeni told MLSsoccer.com. “From a psychological perspective, people have something to think about before the game starts. In the last couple of years, we haven’t had that, and it takes a bit of the pressure off of the rest of the guys.”
After missing the playoffs for a second straight campaign in 2015, the Rapids technical staff began their search for a piece that was missing. After months of searching, Jones emerged as a target and potentially final piece to the team’s offseason rebuild.
“I wouldn’t say that when it started in November, we identified Jermaine Jones as our lead hit; it was more born out of characteristics we were looking for,” Rapids vice president of soccer operations and technical director Paul Bravo said. “As we started to figure out that this was our guy, it made more and more sense. A guy like this would be great for our young players, he would make the players around him better and lead by example. He was highly motivated, which was probably the tip of the iceberg.”
Jones was and is excited for his opportunity in Colorado. Out of contract with MLS, the US national team midfield cog played the waiting game in the offseason and received offers from Europe and China. But the six-game suspension he received during last year’s playoff loss with the New England Revolution proved to be a hindrance in negotiating offers.
“The suspension cut me out from most of the decisions,” Jones said. “Most of the teams needed me straight away. But it was my mistake.”
Colorado was well aware of the situation, and their leadership ultimately decided that the benefit of having a player of Jones’ caliber outweighed the cost of the games he would miss.
“We had to look past that and understand how that fit for us,” Bravo said. “We all agreed that having Jermaine Jones in the building while he was going through that was going to be just as valuable as having him on the field.”
New England appeared to share that sentiment back in December, but by the time preseason rolled around, Colorado had kicked the tires on Jones enough, and both sides were ready to make a deal. During the first week of March, a sign-and-trade deal with the Revs was announced, sending Colorado’s natural first-round draft pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft and general allocation money to New England in exchange for Jones.
In acquiring the allocation money needed to be sent to New England, the Rapids also had to make the decision to trade Marcelo Sarvas to D.C. United, a decision Mastroeni described as “not easy.”
“From an outsider’s standpoint, maybe we gave up too much, but for us, it seemed to fit,” Bravo explained. “When we talked to [Jones], we knew that he was motivated. It’s not easy to find players like Jermaine that want to come to Denver and be part of a project that maybe had fallen off over the last 18 months. He wanted to be here, he wanted to play for our coach and he wanted to be at this club and in our community.”
Jones previously listed proximity to his family and a soccer-specific stadium as one of several reasons for coming to the Rapids, but most importantly, he attributed his strong desire to help third-year head coach Pablo Mastroeni build a winning culture in Colorado.
“Pablo is the main key: He’s a young coach, and I feel like he’s still a player,” Jones said. “How he talks to the players and how he reaches out and gets them to 100 percent was a main key.”
For Mastroeni, Jones' midfield bite and skill are complemented by his experience, qualities much-needed in the Rapids locker room after back-to-back seasons spent largely below the red line in the conference standings.
“I think the more experienced and talented players that have a résumé of winning add to the credibility of a winning mindset,” said Mastroeni. “What you’re trying to do is create a winning culture. You can only do that by having these kind of players.”