After a great World Cup, Jermaine Jones -- the strong Central Defensive midfielder -- made it clear he wants to come to MLS. Last week, Chicago offered him a 2 1/2-year deal at $2.5 million a year, a guaranteed $6 million, but Jones turned it down. Reportedly he wants more money.
And, in a surprising move, the Revolution have now gotten into the mix.
So it seems to be a two-horse race -- New England and Chicago -- and the Revs have to win. They don't just want Jones, they need him. I’m not going to debate the dollars and cents; if they have to overpay a bit, then that’s what they should do.
First off, on the field he fills a desperate need. The Revs starting Defensive Midfielder, Andy Doorman, is out with a knee injury until at least September. Scott Caldwell has deputized and AJ Soares has moved from his Center Back role as well, but neither would bring what Jones does. They need a strong, physical, dominant player in the middle protecting the back four. The Revs have lost 9 of their last 10 matches, and have allowed 23 goals in that stretch. Jones’ ability to dominate the middle is a necessity, but they also need his ability to play the ball out of the back and transition into offense.
At 32 years old, Jones has seen it all and played at the highest levels of the game (USMNT and Champions League for his former club, Schalke). The Revs are a very young team that could benefit from a hardened veteran, on and off the field.
As important as the on-the-field elements are, I think the off-the-field elements are even more critical. MLS is a league of parity; it was set up that way. But we're beginning to see a divide into the “have” and “have nots”. Most leagues around the world are like this. In the EPL there’s the formerly Big 4 (Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal) that has now become the Big 5, with Manchester City pouring money into its team to get on an even playing field. In La Liga, it’s always Barcelona, Real Madrid and possibly a third challenger (Atletico Madrid last year). The Bundesliga is Bayern Munich and everyone else, so you get the point.
Now that MLS teams have become profitable in the last several years, and with an influx of TV money coming next year from the ESPN/FOX media rights deal, teams will have even more cash to work with. Many teams have already invested in soccer-specific stadiums that have invigorated their clubs, brought in new soccer fans and developed more desirable places to play (Sporting KC, Portland, Toronto, etc.). Also, many teams have spent on players that have elevated their teams (Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe, etc.). From the top of the organization down, clubs have already invested and will only continue to push the envelope on facilities, talent and coaches. There is beginning to be a line drawn between those that have and those do not have enough to be perennial contenders.
The battle for a soccer-specific stadium near Boston is well documented. That's still a hope down the road, so if the Revs can’t invest in a new facility they have to invest in players. They are currently the only team without a designated player on their available roster. (MLS teams are allowed three players to be designated outside their salary cap.) This allows them to pay talented players that could make more money abroad. The Revs loaned their only DP, Jerry Bengston, to an Argentinean club.
Jones is a must-have. They need to invest in him and get results, and hopefully this signals to other big-name players that Boston is a desirable place to play. It’s not an easy sell right now. The Revs play in an American football stadium on turf so they may need to overpay players to accomplish this, but it must be done. The longer they go without bringing in high-level players, the more they will put themselves behind the eight ball and possibly not be able to land them at all down the road.
Last, but absolutely not least, the fans want and need to see some commitment from their team. They make the trek to Foxboro and hope that one day they'll have a soccer stadium around Boston. But bringing in players is something the organization controls. Jones arrival would help invigorate a frustrated fan base and improve the product on the field.
If the Revs lose out on Jones and it’s because of a couple hundred thousand dollars this will add to fan frustrations. They will only stay on board for so long. If the Revs get locked into being one of the “have-nots,” you can forget attracting new fans. In fact, they may lose the ones they have now. If they don't invest to build a perennial contender, the battle to develop a soccer culture in this sports-obsessed market could be lost.