For players with dual nationality status, choosing which country to represent can come down to a variety of factors. Some go for playing time, knowing one country is their best chance at minutes or a World Cup. Some go for a personal connection, whether that be through their parents or their own experiences. Some go for comfort, choosing to stay with a program that showed them love at the right times in their career.
But for Jermaine Jones? That choice was a bit different, a bit more personal. All of the above played their part, no doubt, but they're not exactly why he chose to play for the U.S. men's national team.
The reason, the most important reason, was his dad.
Born in Frankfurt to a German mother and an American Army veteran, Jones lost contact with his father after his parents' divorce. The two went two decades without seeing one another as Jones tried, and failed, to locate his father throughout his teenage years and early adulthood. Even as he flourished as a professional in the Bundesliga, playing for the likes of Eintracht Frankfurt, Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke while earning three senior caps with the German national team, Jones couldn't find a way.
His last best hope? A switch to the USMNT. It was a chance to get into the spotlight, to make an impact on the field and, most importantly, a chance to remind his father that he was out there somewhere by becoming a superstar in his home country.
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'There was still just something missing'
"Around, I think 2005 or something, I tried to see if I could play for the United States, but they told me I would not be able to because I played youth tournaments, so I focused on Germany," Jones tells GOAL. "I made it and I came to the point where I could play for them, but I still figured there was something missing.
"I grew up without a dad. I was just with my mom, and my dad's side is the American side. I felt that. I was looking in the mirror and thinking there was still just something missing.
"In 2010, when they changed the rule, I talked with my agent and said that, not even did I just want to play for this country, but maybe that can help me find and bring back that relationship with my dad because, if I could play on TV, he would see that and might be like, 'Oh, that's Jermaine Jones'. Maybe that would make a connection. And it came just like that. My ex-wife brought me into contact with my dad again."
That moment, that feeling, will have been as sweet as any big moment Jones had a USMNT shirt, and there certainly were a few. From his World Cup screamer against Portugal to his incredible performances in the 2016 Copa America, Jones was a legitimate star for the U.S. throughout his seven-year career. He earned 69 caps, starred at a World Cup and solidified his place among the best players the U.S. has ever had.
Dual national choices
The topic of dual nationals is always a key talking point with the USMNT, and it certainly has been in recent months.
The recruitment, and subsequent committal, of Folarin Balogun was the latest massive moment for the U.S., who have had several notable wins in that department in recent years. The likes of Yunus Musah, Sergino Dest, Antonee Robinson and Tim Weah are all players that could have played for other countries, but each chose to represent the U.S. and, ultimately, were rewarded with a spot in the World Cup.
Jones' decision was obviously a bit different. He had played three times for Germany and was initially blocked from playing for the USMNT. However, Jones was one of the first beneficiaries of a FIFA rule change that allowed players to switch national teams if they had not yet played an official senior match for their previous country.
Because all three of his Germany appearances were in friendlies, he was cleared to make the one-time switch, joining up with the U.S. for the first time in 2010. He would have gone to that World Cup, too, if not for an injury, although he did get his World Cup experience in 2014, headlined by his famous goal against Portugal.
Given his own situation, Jones knows that choosing a national team is deeply personal. It's a difficult moment for any player, to choose one or the other, but he feels it's important to remember that it isn't necessarily that simple.
"I think it's a deep moment for every single player to make a decision," he says, "because a lot of times you feel like people will maybe think, 'Oh, now you're going against Germany,' but that's not the case. You have a right to pick a side, to say I wanna go there or there.
"For me, I can say that picking the United States was one of the best decisions I made because they opened the doors for me to play in a World Cup. I feel loved. I appreciate the fans. It's amazing. I've never looked back and said like, 'Maybe I was wrong, maybe I should have stayed with Germany'. I'm still proud.
"I'm half German and I played for them, too. When I watch them, I cheer for both. It's a tough decision to make, but in the end, you have to go with your gut and with your heart and you'll figure out what you want to do."
A love for coaching
After the 2017 MLS season, Jones was officially faced with the question that all athletes must answer at some point: what next? His time with the LA Galaxy was over. Now what?
The answer was obvious: Jones wanted to stay in soccer. Initially, he did so with a brief stint in the U.S. lower leagues, joining Ventura County Fusion in the USL PDL. He then played indoor for the Ontario Fury of the Major Arena Soccer League in 2019. In 2020, though, he announced his retirement. He had delayed the inevitable for a few years, but once his professional career was over, he had to decide what was next.
The answer was coaching. Jones, who has gotten his coaching badges in the U.S. and Europe, has coached at the youth level with the Real SoCal U-19s. He's also been an assistant coach with the NISA's New Amsterdam FC.
He's done some broadcast work, but coaching has become his real passion since stepping away from his own professional career.
"When I retired, I said I wanted to step away and just focus on my kids and see what I wanted to do next," he says. "I jumped into management and different stuff. I've been, for over 18 years, a professional, and, for over 18 years, I played this game. I love to be on the field. I love to stand out there when it's raining or windy or sunshine. It teaches you back, and, now, it's about everything you learned and teaching that back, whether that's kids or adults or professionals. It's just something that gives me a good feeling."
These days, Jones is an assistant coach with the U.S. U-19 men's national team, and he couldn't be happier with his post-career life as he has a chance to stay in the game while helping to shape the next generation of American soccer stars.
"I have five kids," he says, "and I always say that I have five, but now I have another 30 kids! I have like 30 kids that I've been building a relationship with and seeing them develop and that is something that makes you really happy, especially when you played at the highest stage like I did. Now, I can give back to the kids. I can see that he has the talent, but we have to work on that or change that or have to do that. That's something I really enjoy. I wake up in the morning and I'm happy to go to camps when we have them. We'll see where that journey will go."
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The next generation of American stars
Ahead of the U-20 World Cup, Jones was named to FIFA's Technical Study Group for the tournament in Argentina. As part of that, he was asked to observe and give feedback on the games as he got a first-hand look at some of the game's next young stars.
Among them, of course, were the U.S. U-20s, who made it to the quarterfinal round before falling to eventual champion Uruguay in a 2-0 defeat. Prior to that match, though, the U.S. was perfect, topping Ecuador, Fiji, Slovakia and Australia by a combined 10-0 scoreline.
Despite missing some key players like Paxten Aaronson and Jalen Neal, the U.S. put in a strong showing in Argentina, leaving Jones among those impressed with the upcoming generation.
"What makes it special on that team is that they are missing players but, with the players that came in, everybody stepped up," he said. "There was never a time where you were hearing them talking about excuses or whatever. The team is good, and I think I always preach that and I say that we, in general as the U.S., we can be proud that we have a bunch of young players coming in this generation, the next generation, not only the U-20s but the 19s, the 17s, that is coming now. It's really good and exciting to see."
His own U-20 experience
The U-20 World Cup is a tournament that Jones holds close to his heart. He played in the competition, coincidentally also in Argentina, back in 2001 as a member of the German team.
Germany finished second in their group before falling in the Round of 16 against France, with Jones featuring in all four matches.
At the time, Jones grasped that playing at a youth World Cup was something that many of his peers would never achieve. Having come up through the Eintracht Frankfurt academy, he had realized how many would never be top professionals.
He, of course, would go on to be, starring in the Bundesliga, Premier League, Super Lig and in MLS on the club level, but that tournament in Argentina remains a highlight for him because of what it meant at the time.
"Of my age group from, starting at U-14 to making it as professionals with Eintracht Frankfurt, I think it was three guys who made it actually to the first team at Frankfurt," he said. "If you calculate that out at every age group, you have 20 kids but maybe three will make it to the first team. You can see how many kids stay on the road.
"At that point, you have a goal, you have a dream and you hope. Maybe you represent your country as a U-18 or a U-20 at the World Cup in Argentina, it's something special in knowing that, already at a young age, the percentage is really small to achieve that. You're grateful and thankful for it."
Advice for those coming up
Because of his career path, Jones is someone that understands many different worlds. He was raised in the German system, scrapping his way right to the top levels of the European game. He also played in MLS and with the USMNT, giving him a chance to get to know the different systems in place in the American game.
For most young players in the U.S., getting to Europe is still very much the goal. The dream is to play at the highest levels of the Bundesliga or Premier League or wherever, much like Jones did. The ex-midfielder wants to see those kids, the ones talented enough to do so, make that leap, but he also wants them to understand what they're getting into.
"For me, it's always a big one," he said. "There's a lot of kids with talent, especially if you're a player on that edge to go to Europe or go to the big teams or big leagues. You have talent, but now you will face people and they all have talent, so now it comes down to how much you want it and how much you can put yourself to grind and consistently put a lot of work into it. Going over there, it will change because it's a really competitive society. These are competitive leagues, so you have to know that, especially as a young guy."
However, Jones stresses that young players shouldn't be intimidated by the difficulties of the game at that level. Yes, there will be challenges in adapting to a new country, a new team, a new way of life. To adapt to those things, though, you need the right attitude, he says, and that attitude is a combination of confidence and humility that separates the good from the great.
"Don't be shy," he says. "Be respectful, but still put it in the ground and be like, 'Hey, I want to play, too.' I think that's what we coaches preach with the U-19s. There are moments where you're really hard on them and there are moments where we take them and hug them because they're still kids.
"What they need to understand is, if you go into those environments, especially in Europe, it's a business. It's work, so then everything changes. You're not just playing kids your own age; these are men. There are guys on your team that could be your dad almost! You have to know that and you show them respect, and that's good, but you don't have to show fear. You still have to be yourself.
"That's something I preach always: be open-minded, see what you can see. I'm a big believer in the idea that we have two eyes and two ears, to hear and to see. As a young guy, remember that we have just one mouth, so don't talk too much. Observe, learn and things will go your way."