By SCOTT KESSLER – USLSoccer.com Contributor
Thursday, February 18, 2016
And then there was one.
When Derrick Jones signed with Bethlehem Steel FC on December 3, he was only part of a group of Homegrown Players within the Philadelphia Union system. Then the Union traded their original homegrown signing, Zach Pfeffer, as part of a SuperDraft day deal on January 15.
Now Jones, 18, stands alone among his peers as the solitary homegrown figure with either Union squad. A modest man of few words, Jones does not seem fazed by his status as the newest poster boy for the Union’s youth development.
“I’m very happy that I have this opportunity,” Jones said. “I thank the Union organization for helping me get this far. I always knew something like this was going to happen, but not as quick as this right now. I never thought I’d be a professional soccer player at this age. I wasn’t ready for it.
“But now it’s here and I’m going to try very hard to do my best. I’m working hard to find my spot on [the Bethlehem Steel] right now.”
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The quiet ascent of the relatively unknown Jones started four years ago when he moved from Bantama, Ghana to the Philadelphia area. Jones quickly noticed contrasts in the cultures and societies when it came to the role of soccer in life.
“There is a large difference between Ghana and the United States,” Jones said. “It’s not like here where you get a good education and still play soccer. In Ghana you choose one or the other. I put my mind in soccer [in Ghana], and that’s what got me here.”
Jones would eventually join Junior Lone Star, a local independent soccer organization, to continue playing soccer. Junior Lone Star has had plenty of West African immigrant support and participation since its inception.
A match arranged against the Union under-18 squad opened the door for Jones’ transition toward a professional soccer career.
“We discovered Derrick when he played in a friendly match against our U-18s for Junior Lone Star,” Academy Director Tommy Wilson said to PhiladelphiaUnion.com in a press release about Jones’ signing. “My recollection was that he was the best player on the pitch that day and we decided to take Derrick in on trial and quite quickly realized that here was a boy with great potential.”
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At 6-foot-3, Jones strikes an imposing figure on the field. His off-the-field personality seems to extend onto it, as Jones’ natural calmness feeds into his strength on the ball, as well as his desire to help control the flow of the game.
“I used to like playing attacking midfield, but I’m getting used to playing defensively more,” Jones said. “I think that’s my favorite position right now. I like to keep the ball and not force the ball. I like playing through my teammates, but I also love to score.”
Looking to grow as a player, Jones has leaned on a key component of the first team squad for mentoring. Maurice Edu, a former U.S. Men’s National Team international, has become a resource for the younger Jones to study and absorb knowledge from on soccer.
“Maurice is a very good guy,” Jones said. “I take advice from him. He’s telling me about the game. I’m trying to learn more this year from him, too.”
The next step for Jones is playing well enough to start a discussion with the first-team coaching staff about his future with the Union. While that conversation has yet to start, Jones wants to give Coach Jim Curtin and his assistants a reason to talk to him about his potential with the Union.“We really haven’t talked yet,” Jones said. “Hopefully I’m going to have that conversation with them soon.”