Last week, Bethlehem Steel FC saw the veteran centerback Mickey Daley abruptly sent out on loan to the Carolina RailHawks of the American Soccer League and promptly issued statements about how thrilled the club were to see the reliable 29-year-old finally get his chance at the next professional level. This week, BSFC see leading scorer Derrick Jones signed to a Major League Soccer contract by the slumping Philadelphia Union and will undoubtedly yack on endlessly about how wonderful it is to have the top shelf Philadelphia Union Academy churning out truckloads of of quality players not just for the United Soccer League farm club but also the parent MLS side, as well. Meanwhile, even though confident BSFC head coach Brendan Burke has already dared proclaim in public that making the USL playoffs is not necessarily a top priority, the impotent side that has scored the second-least amount of goals in the entire 14-team Eastern Conference this season still really does has every realistic chance at grabbing one of the eight available places for post-season competition.
So how will the promotion of Derrick Jones (18 ga, 18 st, 1486 min, 4 go, 3 as) at this point in time directly affect the playoff prospects for Bethlehem Steel FC?
That will depend upon not only how often the 19-year-old native of Ghana is selected to be a part of the Philadelphia Union’s 18-man squad for any given Major League Soccer match, but also upon how many minutes the teenage defensive midfielder gets in any given MLS game, as well. Ever since the sudden departure of midfielder Vincent Nogueira to French second division side Racing Club Strasbourg, the Union have been using three players to fill the two defensive midfielder positions in Philadelphia’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation with Switzerland World Cup veteran Tranquillo Barnetta and Brian Carroll having been the pairing chosen by head coach Jim Curtin the majority of the time. One paper, the one Union defensive midfielder whose playing time would appear to be most threatened by the mid-season promotion of Jones from the BSFC farm club figures to be Warren Creavalle, the 25-year-old Furman University product who is not necessarily known for his offensive prowess.
Curtin acknowledged, however, that any and all playing time that Jones receives with the Philadelphia Union at the Major League Soccer level will have to be earned in practice – as it should be. The regular reader “Old Soccer Coach” would be the first to acknowledge that what excites the organization the most about Jones would be his physical attributes – his height and speed, to be specific – but also that his passing skills could use more polish to really be able to make a difference at the MLS level. This observer has noted from day one that Jones is genetically-wired to get forward at the first opportunity – which, in of itself, is not an abhorrent trait in any player but it is about knowing when to attack – and wonders whether the more skilled and experienced players to be found at the MLS level will not exploit that particular tendency more often than the players at the third tier USL level are able to.
On the other hand, the Union now find themselves stretched extremely thin in the defensive midfield department because of the recent injury to the Swiss import Barnetta so the fact of the matter is that the newcomer Jones might very well make Philadelphia’s weekly 18-man MLS squad much sooner as compared to later. Considering that Curtin has not deviated from a 4-2-3-1 formation at the start of a match even once all season, it is quite possible that the Academy poster child will be on the Union bench when Philadelphia host visiting Real Salt Lake in Chester this Sunday night. Conventional wisdom says Carroll and Creavalle will start but Jones might been viewed as more preferable cover as directly compared to some of the other possible substitutes for a defensive midfielder’s position such as Leo Fernandes.
Then again, a player like centerback Ken Tribbett or even rookie Joshua Yaro could also be called upon to slide forward into a holding midfielder’s role on an emergency basis. And, although the circuit really does seem to have a number of ridiculous ones, there is no obscure Major League Soccer regulation prohibiting the Philadelphia Union from changing to say, a 4-4-2 formation with either a diamond or box-shaped midfield. Therefore, as has been the case with so many others already this season, fledgling Bethlehem Steel FC will simply have to wait and see whether or not its leading goal-scorer Jones will be available to play in its United Soccer League match against visiting Toronto FC II at Lehigh University’s Goodman Stadium this Sunday afternoon.
Looking at matters over the ‘long haul’, i.e., the duration of Bethlehem Steel FC’s inaugural United Soccer League season, it is extremely difficult to project exactly how many of BSFC’s remaining games Jones, who certainly has been influential at the USL level, will be participating in. Barnetta is not expected to be sidelined forever and United States World Cup veteran Maurice Edu is (and has been) widely expected to be returning to action anytime soon so, again, Jones getting a place in the Philadelphia Union 18-man squad week in and week out is far from guaranteed. Then again, the is also no question whatsoever that the organization are going to want to give Jones a shirt and some minutes if only to tout the merits of their magnificent youth team structure as many times as circumstances will reasonably permit.
Of course, in theory, if Jones has a spot on the Union’s 18-man roster then that means another player under Major League Soccer contract will have to had made way and would, ostensibly, be available to play in the United Soccer League for the Bethlehem Steel FC reserve team currently hunting a playoff berth …