For Joevin Jones, post-soccer match dinners at his family’s home in Trinidad and Tobago were less about eating than teachable moments.
From age 11 until well after his professional career began at 19, Jones, his younger brother Alvin, older brother Marvin and their parents would sit around the table dissecting their games. One by one, each offered some compliments, but most often criticism about areas of needed improvement.
“We used to watch one another’s games and say where we went wrong,’’ said Jones, 25, the Sounders’ left back now drawing raves for his two-way play. “What we needed to work on and stuff like that. And then, the next day, we’d go out to a field and work on things.’’
Throw in their father, Kelvin, being a famous former national-team member — part of the country’s legendary “Strike Squad” that barely missed qualifying for the 1990 World Cup — and the dinner critiques became pointed indeed. Even their mother, Merlin, a former netball player at the country’s highest level, wasn’t beyond a barb or two.
“She watched all of my games,’’ Jones said. “And if she didn’t like how I played, she would tell me straight up. I liked her for that. She’d tell me what I did wrong. If I didn’t have a good game, she’d tell me she wasted her time coming to watch me. Again, I liked her for that. Every time I play, I think about her.’’
Jones said his family had his best wishes at heart. The three brothers wanted to follow dad as pros — and eventually did — but both parents knew the sacrifices that entailed. And so, early mornings, his father would wake the boys at their hillside home in the fishing village of Carenage and take them training with him.
They’d head for the steep hills nearby for sprints to the top followed by a jog back down. Sometimes, they’d go to an open field to work on ball-control skills.
“He’d show us how to trap the ball,’’ Jones said. “How to screen the ball and stuff like that. They were simple drills growing up as a kid.’’
But nothing was simple when your dad was a household name, easily recognized by soccer-crazed fans on the street. The national team “Strike Squad” of 1989 had captured and broken the tiny country’s heart when — needing just a one-point draw to qualify for the 1990 World Cup in Italy — it lost 1-0 at home to the U.S.
It took another 17 years before Trinidad and Tobago reached its first World Cup. Nonetheless, the 1989 team galvanized the often divided, twin-island nation of 1.36 million inhabitants like never before, its players still celebrated as soccer folk heroes.
Being his father’s son, Jones was quickly targeted for success. He’d grown up watching favorite player Cristiano Ronaldo playing in Europe for Sporting Lisbon on a local TV channel. Rather than be jealous of Jones and his pedigree, local soccer hounds supported and pushed him to achieve bigger things like getting overseas to join Ronaldo in a top European league.
His father said a professional coach in Trinidad told him early on that Joevin had the soccer “intelligence” to play overseas if he harnessed his talent.
“I did things to help all of them,’’ said Kelvin Jones, 55, now retired from soccer and working as a police officer. “They wanted me to help make them better to reach their goals.’’
Even now, he adds, he’ll watch Sounders games on TV and phone his son right after.
“I also played left back,’’ he said. “And I used to score goals all the time. Sometimes, I’ll see him get inside the box and he tries to set the ball up for somebody else. I’ll tell him, ‘Shoot the ball! Take the bull by the horns.’ ’’
And Joevin Jones doesn’t mind the fatherly advice. After all, his older brother, Marvin, 36, went on to play professionally in Trinidad. So has younger brother Alvin, 22.
Joevin Jones had a pair of assists in the Sounders’ 3-3 draw against New England at CenturyLink Field on Saturday night.
Instead of feeling pressure following in his famous father’s footsteps, Jones accepted his destiny was to do bigger things. Some say it gave him a “chip” or “edge” to where his first pro contract at 19 with the local W Connection squad wasn’t good enough.
Five seasons later, it was on to a six-month loan to a club in Helsinki and then, his first Major League Soccer job with the Chicago Fire. Jones was traded to Seattle last year and by midsummer began demonstrating the rapid-fire transition game that helped lead the Sounders to their first MLS Cup championship.
Jones, with his speed, ball movement and powerful left-footed shot, is now quietly discussed as arguably the league’s best left back. And he won’t argue.
“In this league, I don’t think people rate me as high as where I should be,’’ Jones said.
But he said it’s good.
“Growing up, I always liked to be the underdog player,’’ he said.
Not that he really ever was. Somewhat of a class clown, whose mouth and pranks sometimes landed him in hot water, Jones excelled at sports. He feels he could have turned pro in cricket, but his soccer skills were too good.
His younger brother, Alvin, agrees their father’s critiques kept both from getting swelled heads.
“He would tell us all of our mistakes and then the good,’’ he said. “But he mostly used to dwell on the mistakes because he wanted us to correct it and be better players. But we never took it the wrong way.’’
And like their father, both brothers now play for the country’s “Soca Warriors’’ national side. Alvin said his MLS-playing brother is deliberately guarded, letting only close friends see his true prankster nature.
“You’ll be in the mall and he’ll push you into somebody and laugh about it,’’ he said. “In the grocery store, he’ll push his trolley into you.’’
Laughing, he adds: “It’s a good thing he’s serious with most people because the kind of stuff he’ll do, you’d want to get back at him. But if you know him, you just have to laugh.’’
In Seattle, Jones keeps a low public profile, preferring outings at the Woodland Park Zoo, a mall or a park with his family — consisting of his girlfriend, Sade, and her three children. They met three years ago in Trinidad and the children “are like my own.’’
But whether they’ll stay here is a different matter. Jones feels he’s close to a crack at Europe and plans to “work harder’’ at maintaining the consistency to get there.
“I think I have a good chance now to play in one of those leagues,’’ he said. “To test my strengths and weaknesses and see where I am as a player now and whether I can get to the highest level.’’
No knock at MLS, he said. It’s just about fulfilling that destiny long expected. A destiny that could see him finally excused from the family dinner table.