This story was originally published on 10/28/19.
In this edition of The Chalkboard, I'm going to do something a bit different and talk about a specific player.
Derrick Jones was signed by Nashville SC to an MLS contract on May 9. Jones played in four matches for Nashville before suffering a serious ankle injury against Charleston Battery on May 29 in the US Open Cup (nearly an identical injury to Michael Reed's season ending injury, minus the dislocation that made it so visibly graphic). Jones had surgery to repair the ankle and didn't play in a match for 122 days, coming off the bench against Loudoun United on September 9.
As a result of this lengthy spell on the sidelines, there haven't been many opportunities to see Jones in action and learn what kind of player he is. He played primarily as a 6 or an 8 in Philadelphia/Bethlehem, and before his injury that's how he played.
Since his return from injury, Jones has played in a different role. In four of his five appearances post-injury, he's come off the bench as a like-for-like substitute for Lebo Moloto. He's played underneath Daniel Ríos in a 4-4-1-1. In the other appearance, he played with Moloto in a 3-4-2-1, again in an advanced role ahead of the holding midfielders and underneath the strikers.
Nashville SC General Manager Mike Jacobs has made no secret of the fact that the club looks for players who are positionally versatile and can pressure teams on both sides of the ball. "I think for us, as we try to build our roster out, our hope was to be able to find players who can be used in multiple areas, not just in the attacking half of the field, but defensive as well," he said in an August interview with Speedway Soccer.
Jones has shown more and more as he's gotten back into the side how he fits into that model. He's very strong defensively, able to read space and break up play before it gets into Nashville's defensive third. He's also clean on the ball, with a controlled first touch and the ability to get the ball into space fast. Here's his involvement from Nashville's 3-1 playoff win over Charleston this past Saturday:
Other than one tackle and pass, everything is in the attacking half of the field. That's surprising for a player who seemed to be more in the mold of Bolu Akinyode than Lebo Moloto.
He sat underneath Ríos and later Mensah, and really broke the game open late in the match with his size and really smart runs through the channels. It's unfortunate for Jones that we haven't been able to see more of him this season, but performances like this show why Nashville SC brought him in for their debut in Major League Soccer.
UPDATED 02/10/20: The trend has continued into 2020 preseason, with Gary Smith continuing to deploy Jones in a more advanced role.
Jones's has size and strength more typical of a defensive midfielder (i.e., Aníbal Godoy), but his ability on the ball and passing vision makes him an intriguing option in the final third.
Hany Mukhtar is the clear first choice in the 10 role, but Jones has shown plenty of potential at the position. With a grueling 34 match season ahead, don't be surprised if Jones gets plenty of minutes in a more advanced role.