Cobi Jones battling for the ball during his heyday. (Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)
Since February is Black History Month, FrontRowSoccer.com will post one story a day about soccer players of color from the United States and the rest of the world. This multi-part series we will feature players from Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti, U.S. Virgin Islands, Ghana, Bermuda, Brazil, Trinidad & Tobago, Senegal and the United States. Today, we feature former U.S. men’s international and LA Galaxy standout Cobi Jones. This story is used with permission by MLSnet.com. It originally was posted Oct. 16, 2007.
By Michael Lewis
Special to MLSnet.com
In the middle of the great late-season MLS playoffs runs, one of the great American soccer careers is winding down.
The questions are: Will it end with a bang or a whimper and exactly when will it end?
Will it be Sunday? Will it be first round of the playoffs? Or perhaps it will be one last hurrah in the MLS Cup in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 18?
Cobi Jones and his Los Angeles Galaxy teammates have literally come back from the dead and the brink of elimination several times in the past month with five consecutive wins. Their destiny is in their hands and at their feet in the final two games of the regular season. Win both and they’re in.
Jones will play in his final regular-season home game at The Home Depot Center against the New York Red Bulls Thursday (ESPN2, 11 p.m. ET).
He then will dress for the Galaxy against the Chicago Fire in the final game of the MLS season at Toyota Park Sunday (Telefutura, 3 p.m. ET).
Jones has become accustomed to playing under pressure and in the national spotlight like for 15 years — he played in a World Cup (1994) – before performing in MLS.
If there’s one thing that Kansas City Wizards technical director Peter Vermes learned about playing with Jones on the National Team, it was never to count the 37-year-old midfielder-forward out.
“If I have to sum Cobi up, I’d say that of all of the guys who came in, whether it be national team, MLS . . . I don’t think there was a more improved player over the course of when he started to the finished product,” he said. “He constantly improved as a player and he made significant strides to be one of the prominent players on our National Team for a long period of time.
“Even more importantly, he adapted and adjusted to the different style play of the different coaches who came in along the way. He was extremely effective in all of the different coaches who had come through.”
The 5-7, 165-lb. Jones played for four coaches on the national team — Bora Milutinovic, John Kowalski (interim), Steve Sampson and Bruce Arena. Jones made a U.S.-record 164 international appearances, scoring 15 goals, while appearing in three World Cups (1994, 1998 and 2002) and helping the U.S. to a fourth (2006). At the age of 27, Jones became the youngest man in the world to crack the 100-cap barrier.
Richie Williams, who played against Jones when he was a defensive midfielder for those great D.C. United teams in the late ‘90s, remembered it wasn’t a fun 90 minutes when he and his teammates had to keep up with Jones.
“He usually played on the outside and I played in the middle, so obviously in soccer you still go against each other,” he said. “The one thing with Cobi, you had to worry about his quickness. He was very quick and aggressive, and he’d run at you and take you on. You always had to be prepared for that.
“He had good stamina. He could always get up and down the field. You always knew you were in for a good game with Cobi. You always had to keep your eye on him to make sure he wasn’t going to be too dangerous on the day and try to limit his ability to get at you.”
Columbus Crew coach Sigi Schmid, who probably knows more about Jones the player than anyone else, coached Cobi at UCLA, the Galaxy and at the international level.
“When Cobi came to UCLA, I don’t think Cobi would have would have guessed that his career would have been as long an as illustrious as it turned out to be,” he said. “I don’t think we would have guessed that at the outset. It was something that sort of rolled on. One thing led to another. All of a sudden, it was tremendous.”
Schmid remembered when Jones became a “pro” — while performing for the U.S. national B team against Dynamo Kiev at the President’s Cup in Korea.
“Cobi was outstanding for us. He was our best player,” said Schmid, who sat next to a motionless Jones in the locker room after the game.
“Now you know what it feels like to be a pro because you are mentally and physically exhausted,” Schmid said he told Jones. “You gave everything you had in this game. If that what drives you, you’ll have a great career.”
Added Schmid: “That was the first game ever the game demanded everything from him, and Cobi responded to everything the game asked of him. He got selected for the Pan-Am Games, the Olympic team and all good things went on from there.”
Entering Wednesday’s game, Jones is the Galaxy’s all-time leader in goals (70) and games (304); he has never been red carded. His career year was 1998, when he collected 19 goals and 13 assists en route to MLS Best XI honors and U.S. Soccer Male Athlete of the Year.
He performed in five MLS Cups, winning twice (2002, 2005), and for two Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championship sides (2001, 2005).
Before the 2002 season, Schmid asked Jones to change his game a bit, to concern himself about playmaking than goal-scoring. He tied his career-high of 13 assists as L.A. captured the MLS title.
“He was just tremendous that year, setting up [Guatemalan international] Carlos Ruiz, setting up other people.
“Cobi’s . . . not a 24-hour/7 soccer guy. Cobi always needs his space away from the game. but when he’s out there and training, he’s extremely competitive. That has allowed him to achieve what he has achieved. He competes with a smile.”
When Schmid needed to spice up a Galaxy practice, he would play a game and have Jones on one side and St. Vincent and the Grenadines midfielder-defender Ezra Hendrickson on the other.
“They would wind each other up and that would get everyone else going,” Schmid said.
Now Jones has but a few games to provide some more heroics and magic for one last hurrah. Whether it will be two games, four games or even something more, it remains to be seen.
Reposted with permission from MLSnet.com.