Even in the aftermath of Joevin Jones’ finest performance as a Sounder, one of his teammates wondered whether he wasn’t still holding something back.
Jones was a two-way terror throughout Seattle’s 3-0 win over Dallas last Sunday in the first leg of their Western Conference semifinal series. The 25-year-old left back held his own against FCD’s crafty coterie of wingers. He stretched the field wide with aggressive runs deep into Dallas’ defensive half.
Jones notched two assists – the looping cross onto Nelson Valdez’s head in the 50th minute plus the long pass that set up Nicolas Lodeiro’s breakaway shortly thereafter – and could have been credited with a third for his role in the buildup of the other Sounders goal.
And yet, asked about Jones in the locker room after the match, Valdez’s first reaction was to bring up the potential still unfulfilled.
“I’ve told him, he has the potential to play in Europe, easily,” Valdez said. “I still think he’s playing just 50 percent of what he can.”
If Sunday night was Jones at half-capacity, then the draft-day trade with Chicago in exchange for a late-first-round pick and allocation money was even more of a fleecing than it already looks like.
Jones has steadily improved during his first season in Seattle, particularly after interim head coach Brian Schmetzer took over in late July. The installation of Osvaldo Alonso and Cristian Roldan as a defensive midfield partnership has provided greater cover, and Jones has flourished with additional freedom to push forward into the attack.
“Chemistry has been the most important thing,” Roldan said. “Especially throughout the second part of the season, he’s progressed. … He came here as a good player, but the role he’s in allows him to be the player that he is.”
Jones’ role with the Sounders still differs with the one he occupies with the Trinidad and Tobago national team. For T & T, Jones often plays as an attacking winger – often effectively, too, netting four goals in World Cup qualifiers so far this year as the Soca Warriors advanced to the final round.
Schmetzer, though, has held firm that the Sounders view Jones as a left back, filling a position traditionally hard to capably staff in MLS.
“I think he is a winger at heart,” Roldan said. “He’s honestly a very good one-v-one defender. I think people don’t expect that from him because of his attacking qualities, but you don’t see a lot of people running past him.
“He’s definitely a winger at heart, but I think this role suits him.”
There’s a duality to Jones – country and club, attack and defense – that helps explain his greater inconsistency earlier this year. Even with his late-season surge, Jones can still be the type of player that drives coaches crazy. He’s high-risk, high-reward, lights out one game and seemingly disinterested the next.
Jones was benched by former Sounders coach Sigi Schmid after a particularly uninspiring display in Houston back in April. It was his lazy turnover that sealed the home loss to New York City FC in late June, a defeat that led to an impassioned speech by captain Brad Evans about the lack of urgency he sensed in some of his younger teammates.
“Maybe they’ve been at teams where losing is a tradition and you wait for the next season to get a fresh start,” Evans said at the time.
When Jones has got it going like he did against FC Dallas, you get a sense of all of it: the rare talent and special player that Jones can be, and the frustration he can elicit when glimpses of that are less forthcoming.
“I think Joevin has a really high ceiling,” said Schmetzer when asked about Valdez’s “50 percent” characterization. “I would agree with that, absolutely.”
What must he do to reach that potential?
“Keep working. Keep doing what he’s doing,” Schmetzer said. “He has a ton of talent. He’s still young. Getting used to maybe playing at left back for us, when he plays in the midfield for his national team, some of those nuances, as you get a little older, you get more experienced. You take what games give you.”
Jones did that and more against Dallas. With the visitors playing with a five-man defense, Jones had all kinds of open spaces to push into and exploit. He picked his spots well, handled his defensive duties like a veteran.
For both the Sounders and Jones himself, that signature performance on Sunday night at CenturyLink might very well be just the beginning.