COLUMBUS, Ohio – On the eve of USA-Mexico, US national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann seemed to hint at one of his preferred players getting back onto the pitch.
Before returning as a substitute in the final day of the regular season and then starting Colorado's Western Conference Semifinal-winning match against the LA Galaxy on Sunday, midfielder Jermaine Jones had missed four months with the Rapids while dealing with a nagging knee injury.
When he was called into the US camp in Columbus this week ahead of Friday’s Hexagonal-stage World Cup qualifier, some observers wondered whether Jones’ health and fitness levels were high enough to help him contribute. But in his press conference on Thursday, Klinsmann seemed to suggest that an appearance by Jones on Friday was a foregone conclusion.
“We’ll see if he can go 90 minutes or how far he can go,” Klinsmann said. “Just to have him with us means a lot to us and makes us feel more comfortable.”
Jones didn’t have much to say about his recovery Tuesday, but told reporters he was available.
"I feel good,” he said. “After 13 weeks out, I played 83 minutes with my club team. So of course, I would say if I come to the national team, I’m ready to go."
Klinsmann often praises the off-field contributions of Jones, and again reiterated that having Jones around makes a difference in training.
“We are thrilled that Jermaine is back, there’s no doubt about it,” Klinsmann said. “Jermaine [has been] a big part of this team [for] years with his leadership, his aggressiveness, his drive. On the training field, he drives everybody right away with another level.”
Thursday, Jones was even more adamant that he was fit, and suggested that conversations about his injury are merely a distraction.
"In these games especially, you don't really have to talk a lot,” he said. “I don't want to talk about my fitness the whole time. If I am here in the camp and I am on that line and I say I want to play and I can play, then there is no excuse – if I was injured 13 weeks or nothing, this is a game that I live for. It's a nice game to play against a good squad, with Mexico. If you don't want to play these games, I think you're in the wrong sport."
But if something goes wrong that prevents Jones from adding to his tally of more than 60 national team caps, Klinsmann said those added bonuses make his inclusion valuable.
“That’s why we also have 26 players and cut it down to 23 before the game," he said, "because there are always a couple question marks with individual players."