Nashville SC has acquired a player for its MLS days, and like strikers Cameron Lancaster and Daniel Ríos, he will be loaned to the USL side for the 2019 season (or the remainder of it, at least). Unlike the strike duo, he was acquired from an MLS team using one of MLS’s accounting mechanisms: $175,000 of General Allocation Money will be sent to the Union in exchange for not only Jones’s contract, but also his Homegrown Rights. The Union will collect an undisclosed portion of the transfer fee should Nashville eventually sell his rights outside of the league.
(Really quick primer on some of those terms above: General Allocation Money is an accounting mechanism through which teams can lower a player’s hit to their salary cap. The amount given to expansion teams has been a closely-guarded secret over the years, though FC Cincinnati caught criticism for trading away huge amounts of it in their expansion offseason this past Winter. Homegrown rights are another MLS construction through which players developed by a given club can count as a smaller hit against that specific club’s salary budget. I’ve been planning a primer on some of the MLS roster rule intricacies at some point. It is obviously coming sooner than I expected).
So, on to Jones: The 22-year old is a native Ghanaian who has American citizenship and indeed has played for US Youth International teams as recently as March 24, when he was a second-half sub for the U-23s in a scoreless draw against the Netherlands.
Per TransferMarkt, he has 25 career MLS appearances for the Union, for 1,091 minutes (about 44 minutes per appearance), but his only statistical contribution has been three yellow cards. Most of his professional time has come with USL Championship side Bethlehem Steel, the Union’s affiliate program. His only three appearances so far this year have come in the Steel’s three most recent games.
In the previous three years, though, he was a major player for the Steel. In the past two (the years in which USL provides full stats), he only got limited appearances because he was also with the Union, with 14 last year and 12 the previous year (he played in 26 Steel games as a 19-year old in 2016).
He averaged 1.04 key passes per 96 minutes (average game length) over the past three years, he has five total goals on 27.8% conversion rate, for a .186 goals/96 rate (not super-high).
There’s not a full highlight reel consisting of recent footage, but in the interest of providing such a reel, here’s one with his performance from 2016:
The height portion of his size (a beanpole at 6-4 there) is relevant to us today, you’d expect that a 22-year old man has filled out a bit, and indeed NSC’s mini-reel of him shows a visibly stronger – though still skinny – player.
Jones is a very good technician with the ball at his feet, willing to shoot with both feet (even when he’s about to lose his shorts in the final clip!), and of course his height allows him to be a bit of a target-man and holdup player, even as he plays primarily in the holding midfield role. On that note, his passing and defensive numbers are relevant, yes?
2017-19, he’s completed 78.2% of his passes, 50.6% of long ones. In 2017 and 2018, about half of his passes were forward, though in limited time this year, he’s been more of a “pass to the left” profile (I haven’t yet watched complete games to know why, other than assuming small sample size plays a large role there). He’s won 81.3% of tackles, 55.1% of duels, and he averages 1.15 clearances and 1.19 passes intercepted per 96 minutes played. His ability as a stopper has been key for the Steel.
“Jonesy sees ball, Jonesy wins ball,” said Evan Villella of Views From The Bridge and The USL Show (which cover the Union/Steel and entire USL, respectively). “You will have to foul him hard to get it back.”
That last point is an interesting one, too: he actually wins nearly as many fouls as he commits, despite playing a position where you’d expect a large discrepancy in favor of taking the defensive action. That speaks to his ability to hold the ball and confidence on it, as I’ve mentioned above. A defense-first box-to-box midfielder may not be the sexiest add, but inserting one with his talent on the ball is an upgrade, to say the least, and likely makes the task of the strikers getting the ball in dangerous areas much easier.
He’s a young guy and Nashville traded for his MLS rights, which makes him the third MLS signing for the team along with Ríos and Lancaster, and probably indicates a desire to get him into the lineup as soon as possible (as the other duo would both be if Lancaster were healthy). He’s expected to have a future in Music City. As a defensive midfielder with some obvious offensive ability and ability on the ball, he likely has a present as soon as he’s ready, too – I would expect Tuesday’s US Open cup game is too early for a guy who’s not in town yet, but even if it is, the following game against Charlotte Independence should see him in the squad.
The Allocation Money bit will be something to monitor: Cincinnati (perhaps rightfully, perhaps overstated) got plenty of flak for trading away the expansion Allocation Money to put together… whatever their current roster is, besides strong enough for the coach to get fired shortly after he criticizes it. We shall see how much Nashville values its xAM (a term that generally encompasses the two different types of allocation money – please don’t worry about it for now, especially since we’ve no idea how much Nashville has now or will have in 2020) as a tool for buying down contracts later versus trading away to acquire players. Both are intended purposes – otherwise it wouldn’t be a tradable asset – but how General Manager Mike Jacobs values one use in comparison to the other will go a long way toward defining what sort of roster NSC can bring in Year One.