Since Jones’s situation has changed since starting this series (and I’ll be talking about Jones in a different context soon), let’s break the minute-order to talk about the newest member of the Houston Dynamo.
Other editions: No minutes and gone • No minutes and back • Jimmy Medranda • Brayan Beckeles • Handwalla Bwana • Jack Maher • David Accam • Alan Winn • Matt LaGrassa • Eric Miller • Derrick Jones • Jhonder Cádiz • Taylor Washington • Abu Danladi • Jalil Anibaba • Dominique Badji • Daniel Ríos • Tah Brian Anunga • Alex Muyl
Jones was one of just a handful of players who closed out the USL era of Nashville SC on an MLS contract – and a guarantee that he’d be a part of the inaugural season after “promotion.” After his early-season trade from Philadelphia Union (where he was a Homegrown academy signing, with Nashville subsuming those rights), he immediately stepped into the lineup, and only a broken ankle prevented him from getting more time.
Given NSC’s early faith in him, and the fact that he occasionally looked like a star for the USL team, it was safe to assume the 23-year old would play a big role for Nashville. Of course, the expectation was that this role would be as a holding midfielder, with Jones’s strength and technical ability on a 6-3 frame more suited to that position than the No. 10-type role he played in USL.
21 appearances • 1080 minutes
0 goals, 9 shots (1.19 xG), 3 on-target
2 assists, 6 key passes (0.96 xA)
304/385 passing (79.0% • 81.5% expected)
8.5% of touches on-field
+0.09 Goals added per 96 minutes versus average striker(!)
|Derrick Jones 2020|||||||||||
|Dribbling G+||Fouling G+||Interrupting G+||Passing G+||Receiving G+||Shooting G+|
It may not be Jones’s fault that he was needed in a number of less-natural roles – playing wing, central attacking mid, and even striker – for the Boys in Gold. Injuries at striker were particularly impactful into shoehorning him into a role that he maybe wasn’t great for. But there were also occasional injury troubles at what seemed like his better spot in the holding midfield, and he wasn’t called upon there.
The reality of Jones’s skillset and style of play is that they don’t necessarily blend with his natural physical attributes, and Nashville almost certainly brought him in expecting those physical attributes to fit perfectly at that No. 6 spot. Instead, he’s actually more of a guy who wants to beat opponents with his technical skill (even if he doesn’t have the footspeed to pay that off with a free run toward goal). He’s a bit of a risk-taker on the ball, as well. Those turnovers at wing and No. 10 can be frustrating. As a holding midfielder, they’d more likely be disastrous.
Jones managed to use his height in the game he was played as a true center forward (at New England Revolution), but otherwise wasn’t ever much of an aerial threat for this team. He never got enough credit for the fan base for his technical skill, and while his lack of speed was unfairly criticized as a lack of work ethic… it was certainly a noticeable lack of speed, and something that prevented his adopted positions from ever working out.
Jones was actually at his best as an old-school No. 10 when he stepped for Hany Mukhtar (he and Randall Leal would largely alternate fondling inside and playing wing). Able to win a one-v-one and intimidate at the top of a press, but not an athlete to blow by people, all the while looking physically like a centerback.
So, Jones’s combination of physical ability and technical skill combined to make him a bit of a tweeter for Nashville SC. Technical at any position, but too risky (and without the pure defensive prowess) to play closer to the back, and not athletic or incisive enough to be an offensive player. He fits somewhere, just not necessarily at Nashville SC.
Hopefully, that place is Houston Dynamo. He’s familiar with head coach Tab Ramos from their time together with US Youth National Teams, and Tab went out and gave up $250,000 in General Allocation Money for him. The Dynamo were truly awful this year, but a true 4-3-3 with a pair of more-advanced central midfielders may ultimately be a better system for Jones to find success.
I’ve long been a fan, and hopefully his best years are ahead of him, even if it didn’t work out for Nashville.