With captain Alejandro Bedoya suspended for Saturday’s match against Minnesota United, the Union handed an opportunity to midfielder Derrick Jones.
“He and Warren (Creavalle) will be the two vying for that position to replace Alejandro Bedoya,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “It’s big shoes to fill but two guys I’m confident can do it.”
All Jones had to do was take it. Curtin laid out the player's path to the starting XI, a spot Jones hasn’t seen since July 6. First, the 20-year-old needed to join the Union’s USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel for their match against Orlando City B. Second, he needed to perform well.
Curtin wasn’t convinced of the latter after the 1-1 draw in Florida.
“He had an OK game,” the coach said.
It was an unconvincing effort in what has been an unconvincing second half of the season for Jones. After losing his starting job five games into 2017, and suffering a concussion midway through the year, the physically dominant midfielder has been a mediocre version of the player the Union saw early in the season.
“We had a good talk with Derrick to try and get him going again,” said Curtin, talking about himself and sporting director Earnie Stewart. “We’re seeing decent performances with the Bethlehem Steel, decent performances in training but we want more. We want more of the Derrick we saw at the early stages of the year.”
One of the Union's most promising homegrown players, Jones hasn’t been bad, just not dynamic and certainly not dominant, which the club wants to see from its better players at the lower levels.
Curtin believes that Jones may have simply hit a wall.
“You get past the midway point of the year, with the younger players, there’s a tendency to maybe have a step back,” Curtin said. “The grind, the length of training, doing it each and every day, that’s what it takes to be a true professional. It’s something that he’s still learning and something that he’s worked towards.”
Yet, even with the lackluster grade, Jones is up against Creavalle to start at the No. 8 spot for the Union on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium. Because when it comes down to it, the struggling Union are in need of a youth movement as they hang onto an 8-12-7 record and sit three points from the Eastern Conference basement.
“The conversation that he’s had with Earnie, with myself, with the two of us, I think he has shown an improvement,” Curtin said. “Now, he’s a guy that is in the discussion for the starting 11 against Minnesota.”