PORTLAND, Ore. – There have been many versions of Jack Jewsbury in his time with the Portland Timbers.
He was the team’s first captain, brought to the Rose City five years ago, after eight seasons with Kansas City, to be the face of the club in its MLS infancy.
It then wasn’t long before he became Portland’s first star, paying off the expansion team’s investment with his first MLS All-Star selection and career-high seven goals and eight assists from a central midfield role in 2011.
But his production the next year lagged, and when head coach Caleb Porter took over ahead of the 2013 season and quickly overhauled the roster, many believed Jewsbury’s days with the Timbers were numbered – at the very least his time as an offensive centerpiece was over, with the acquisitions of midfielders Will Johnson, who took over as team captain, and Diego Valeri.
Captain Jack, as he became known to club faithful, started the season on the bench as Porter employed a possession-style, high-pressure attack. But two games in, the Timbers had allowed five goals, and Jewsbury was suddenly valued again.
Porter brought him in to the starting XI, first as a defensive midfielder for two games and then the starting right back for the remainder of the season, saying he liked the stability Jewsbury brought to the team as the Timbers won the Western Conference regular-season title and advanced to the Conference Championship.
“He has a lot of value on this team in a lot of different ways, his versatility, his locker-room presence and his leadership – and his quality,” Porter told MLSsoccer.com after a recent training session, looking back on all the ways Jewsbury has helped the club.
Still, by the end of the 2014 season, Jewsbury was out of the lineup again, supplanted by young and athletically gifted Jamaican international Alvas Powell. Surely this time Jewsbury, who turns 34 next month, would ride off into the sunset.
Enter Jewsbury, who is once again starting in the middle of the park for the Timbers – and earning rave reviews through his first two games heading into Saturday’s road matchup with his old team Sporting Kansas City (8:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE).
“It’s important,” Jewsbury told MLSsoccer.com when asked about his willingness to wear different hats for the Timbers. “I think over the course of my career, the one thing I can say that’s really helped my cause is the versatility. … I think that versatility has been good for me, but it’s also been good for the coaching staff because they know that they can fit me in a few different spots and hopefully the club won’t miss a beat.”
Heading into the season, Jewsbury was forced to come to terms with using that trait in a different way.
With Powell entrenched at right back and Zemanski and Diego Chara ahead of him on the defensive midfield depth chart, and second-year pro George Fochive and rookie Nick Besler impressing the coaching staff with their abilities at that position, Jewsbury was facing the reality of perhaps even being left out of game-day rosters.
It was a reality that took some time for him to come to terms with.
“It was something, to be honest, in the beginning was pretty hard because over the course of my 12 years at that point I pretty much played consistently,” Jewsbury said. “To be on the bench was something new for me, and so towards the end of the season I kind of wrapped my head around it finally. But I still wanted to come in this preseason and push guys to be better, whether that was Alvas or Ben or Diego, whoever that may be. I also wanted to continue to push and let the coaches know that if they needed me, if and when, I’d be ready.”
Jewsbury said he and Porter talked over the offseason and that the coach was very “honest” with what his role would be in 2015 and where he stood with the club. So he knew exactly what he was getting into when he came back this year for his 12th season.
That sort of mentality from a player of Jewsbury’s age, who has always played big roles with his clubs, is rare, Porter said.
“It becomes tough,” Porter said. “You’re at the end of it, you can start to feel that there are maybe guys that are ahead of you and like you’re hanging on. But it never became that way with Jack. He seemed to be a guy that was going to turn that into a positive and not a negative. He was going to embrace his role but also never be satisfied with it.”
Porter said Jewsbury arrived at preseason camp in tremendous shape, did what whatever was asked of him and did it as if he were just another player battling for a job. It showed the coaching staff, Porter said, that he had plenty left in the tank.
“I’ve been really impressed with Jack,” said center back Nat Borchers, a veteran in his own right who has gone up against Jewsbury in his 10 years in the league before joining the Timbers over the offseason. “He was out of the lineup early this year but came to training every single day and worked tremendously hard in the preseason.
“It’s those kind of guys that you love to play with and you admire because it’s not easy to go from being a non-starter to being a starter towards the end of your career, so I’ve been very impressed with his professionalism.”
And when Zemanski was lost, Porter didn’t toy much with the idea of anybody other than Jewsbury stepping into that role.
“I think he looks reinvigorated because he probably sees the fact that he has to step up and he’s going to have a large role here,” Porter said, “because with Zemanski out until Will Johnson gets back, he’s going to be in there.”
Playing such an important part in the club over the years, albeit in very diverse ways, is something Jewsbury doesn’t take for granted. And just as he did when he was the face of the Timbers in 2011, he’s clearly relishing the opportunity to once again step in front of the cameras and microphones after games and training sessions to offer his well-spoken perspective.
“It’s a lot of fun, I think, to see some of the young guys we’ve had since the beginning and even some of the guys we’ve gotten in the past few years and see them grow up in this league, in the culture that’s been established here in the club, and to see them grow not only on the field but off the field as well is something that’s special for a guy like myself,” Jewsbury said.
Porter said the fact that Jewsbury is still enjoying the game certainly has a lot to do with his longevity in it.
“Maybe last year or the year before you see him and think he’s got one or two more, but you start to see him now and you think he could have two or three more,” Porter said. “And again it’s a testament to his professionalism and his attitude. And the mentality does play into the physicality. If you’re mentality isn’t right and you’re not positive it’s funny how your body seems to go a little quicker.”
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Jewsbury certainly isn’t ready to talk about the end of his career. And while he may not be the young man he was when he came to town, he’s comfortable in his ability to help the team in other ways.
It will all be a part of his legacy with the Timbers, although he said he won’t think about that until he “officially hangs up the boots.”
One thing he does know for certain: He wants to finish his career in Portland with the club he helped build.
“I can honestly say that when I first got traded here I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “With the city first of all, we had never been to Portland; with the fans, I had heard good things but I had no idea how incredible it would be; and with this organization, how professional and how much it’s changed even since I’ve got here. It’s definitely a place that will always be close to my heart. And if we end up staying here and being a part of it, that I couldn’t tell you now because we haven’t crossed that road yet and hopefully won’t for a little while.
“But I can honestly say that we love Portland, and it definitely feels like home to us now.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.