U.S. heads to World Cup with players struggling for game time
This story appears in ESPN The Magazine’s August 23 Player Profiles and ESPN the Magazine: The Best of Both Worlds, a series profiling how players outside of the usual spotlight perform on the global stage.
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Before the opening game of the World Cup, U.S. soccer stars spent hours in sessions with U.S. Soccer’s performance coaches, trying to improve on their performances from the Gold Cup.
Afterward, they returned to their hotel rooms to pack for a two-week trip to Russia. After a night out to enjoy some alcohol at a club, they returned to their hotel rooms, each with a suitcase in tow.
At the end of the month, the four home stars — Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore and Jermaine Jones — were on a plane to Russia in time to watch England take the lead in extra time of the World Cup final.
In fact, it was Jones, among the most popular Americans outside of Major League Soccer, who was the first to arrive in Russia the following day. He watched England defend a lead that seemed insurmountable.
It was a chance for Jones to see his hero, the New York Mets’ Carlos Beltran, in action. It was also a chance for Jones to meet a few new friends. After all, Jones has lived abroad for a decade.
“It wasn’t the best of times,” Jones said.
In the two weeks between the U.S.’s opening game against Ghana, and England’s victory over Belgium in a 3-2 win in the World Cup final in Moscow, Jones has never missed a day of practice. His teammates have joined him. He’s been welcomed by England captain Steven Gerrard, who once played for Jones on the Houston Dynamo. He’s met Russia’s national team coach, Andrei Kudashev, who was an assistant coach with Jones on the Houston team.
When Jones arrived in Russia, he met a team that is trying to be better than it was four years ago.