Jermaine Jones is a proven international, a UEFA Champions League veteran, a beast of an athlete and an inspiring presence for teammates and fans alike. He's got all the tools to prosper in MLS – and just as importantly – a keen desire to do so after years of admiring his father's country amid a German upbringing.
But should he decide it's time for a stateside homecoming, he simply won't have MLS clubs tussling tooth and nail to get his signature, and here's why.
Jones' reported price tag (a Designated Player-level contract) is way too high, and his positional strengths are too common, to justify it.
For all the visible flaws of the US player development system, it churns out No. 6 types with a regularity matched only by the country's massed ranks of goalkeepers and, to a lesser extent, center backs.
And in a league where salary-cap space is utterly precious, those roles are too easily filled with more economical options – which is why only a scant handful of DP slots have ever been used on the aforementioned positions.
Witness Arévalo Ríos' all-too-brief stint in Chicago: He's a world-class midfield terrier with World Cup pedigree, but new Fire coach Frank Yallop couldn't bring himself to commit to the Uruguayan's 2014 salary hit. Even the league's best at that role, proven performers like the LA Galaxy's Juninho and Real Salt Lake hero Kyle Beckerman, command a fraction of the wages offered to “needle movers” like Robbie Keane and Clint Dempsey.
Questions also lurk around Jones' hard-edged temperament, an area where he tiptoes the line with an intensity that might land him in too many North American referees' notebooks. That's just one of several areas (think of travel, tactics and summer heat as well) where even the most elite players must adjust when they swoop in as MLS newcomers.
Certainly, Jones brings myriad intangibles to the table, and has showed surprising versatility in US national team colors, where Jurgen Klinsmann trusts him deeply enough to have fielded him in almost every midfield position over the past two years. He could certainly provide a major boost to most any MLS squad, especially one with a young or unproven backline in need of a shield.
But the price has to be spot-on – and remember, any club that really wants him must prove it, either by shipping some assets to D.C. United to gain the top spot in the current allocation order, or tendering a DP deal that removes him from the process entirely.
That's a tall order, even for the formidable Jones.