Even with the Revs’ and Major League Soccer’s websites shouting Sunday night’s news on high, it’s still hard to believe as a fan. But as soccer in New England goes, the signing of a very recent World Cup star for the United States is a big deal...and new territory for a club who some think MLS passed by a few years ago.
Jones, who is German-American, made a name for himself playing in Europe and became a household name stateside this summer for his World Cup heroics for the United States. Remember this?
He fills a big need for the Revolution, who have struggled in the defensive midfield much of this season—especially so since Andy Dorman went down to injury last month. From an on-the-field perspective, the tenacious Jones is just a terrific fit. Jones will stick around for the rest of this season and next.
Jones was signed as a “designated player,” which by MLS rules allows a team to acquire higher-profile players to big contracts without having a major effect against the salary cap. (Jones will reportedly earn $4.5 million over the course of 2014 and 2015.) The rule was put in place as MLS began taking strides into what fans call its 2.0 and, later, 3.0 phases—which have seen the league draw international stars, sign lucrative TV deals, develop a fanbase that stretches beyond youth soccer families, and build soccer-specific stadiums that create a better atmosphere for spectators than cavernous NFL venues.
While Jones is not the Revs’ first designated player, he will be the first that casual fans have heard of. He’ll also be the first to make serious money from the Kraft family, who own the team—and somtimes draw the ire of fans for a perceived lack of investment in it. Depending on how fans feel about Revs ownership, they tend to toggle between use of the terms cheap and prudent. That perception, fair or not, is why the Jones signing seems so hard to believe.
After all, the organization has also said it is working to find a spot to build an urban soccer-specific stadium of its own, allowing it to move out of Gillette Stadium, for eight years. Everybody knows that building anything in Greater Boston comes with its fair share of headaches, but after eight years it starts feeling like lip service. (By the way, let’s wait a few days to tell Jermaine he’ll be playing his home games in Foxboro.)
The team has paid similar reverence, with little result thus far, to the idea of bringing on a superstar. So when the Revs said in early August that they were actually going to make an effort on Jones, for many fans, it felt like more of the same.
Yet the signing of Jones is in keeping with everything the organization has always said about signing a high-profile designated player. As mentioned above, Jones fills an immediate on-the-field need for the team, which is fighting for a playoff spot, made the playoffs in 2013, and, despite being built on a limited budget, is actually fairly talented.
Revolution management, though, has always held that signing a high-profile, high-cost player would need to make sense both on and off the field. They say so with a refreshing candor, considering most sports organizations are quick to deflect the idea that they’ve done anything for marketing purposes. But in a growing league playing a growing sport (in the U.S., that is), it makes sense that the marketability and star power of a player would factor into personnel decisions. And coming off his showing at the World Cup, Jones is about as marketable a player as New England could hope to bring into the fold this summer.
Reading into the Jones signing, then, would indicate that maybe the Revolution brass really mean it when they say they are committed to joining the rest of the league in growing up, but that they will be dilligent in so doing. They said they’d invest in a big-time player when the right player came along. They did. They’ve said they’re committed to building a stadium, and will do so when the circumstances are right. Granted, a $4.5 million player investment pales in comparison to an estimated $130 million stadium investment. But maybe, just maybe, Sunday’s news is indicative that they are in fact willing to make it.
Then again, the means by which Jones was brought on were in keeping with MLS’s charmingly bizarre player acquisition rules. The Revs were chosen in a blind draw with the Chicago Fire to see who would lay claim to Jones. That means what it sounds like—their name was more or less pulled out of a hat. While they’re going to pony up the cash, there was a big element of luck involved in the acquisition. If the Revs had made the exact same effort and the luck fell Chicago’s way, we wouldn’t be engaging in this sort of optimistic navel gazing this morning.
But it didn’t happen that way, and here we are. And the Revolution, at least, sure seem pleased about it.