Revolution Academy goalkeeper Eliot Jones was mere days away from his on-field return from a knee injury when the U.S. Soccer Development Academy suspended the 2020 spring season in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The 16-year-old will have to wait a while longer to retake his position between the pipes, where he has been a regular contributor for the under-19 and under-17 sides since joining the Revolution Academy in 2016.
A native of New Britain, Conn., Jones recently traded in the frequent drives along I-95 to become one of the first four members of the Revolution Academy’s pilot residency program, allowing him to continue high school online while living steps away from the club’s elite new training facility in Foxborough. Jones has benefited from similar proximity to the Revs’ first team throughout his Academy career, spending multiple preseason camps and training sessions with the MLS side over recent years.
Before he heads off to Division I powerhouse Stanford University in the fall, we asked Jones a few questions to sum up his time rising through the Revolution youth ranks.
As a Connecticut native, what drew you to join the Revolution Academy?
Jones: “It first came onto my radar when I was relatively little, only six years old, because of a newspaper article about the rise of U.S. Soccer’s Development Academy. Being part of a Major League Soccer club, the Revolution Academy was also the closest, highest level of soccer that I had access to, which obviously is one of the biggest problems that a large country like the United States has. Once it became clear that the academy teams in Connecticut didn’t offer the same pathway to professional soccer, I knew that I had to start working towards becoming a member of the Revolution Academy.”
What has been your favorite part about being a member of the Revolution Academy?
Jones: “Everyone has always pushed me to do the next best thing. In the beginning, it was pushing me to be a part of my first USYNT camp when I was an Under-13, then it was pushing me to consistently improve so I could remain a part of the national team setup. Even at the end of our Under-13 year, it was pushing me to train with the first team as a just-turned 14-year-old kid coming off of his first full season in the academy. As an Under-17 with the Academy, it was more of the same, but this time I was able to go to preseason in Spain and Florida with the first team, and even after they were always inquiring on my behalf about when there would be another national team camp, because they know that I should be a part of it.
“Now this year, after being out for 10 months with a knee injury, everyone is still pushing me to get back to playing at that high level I had reached last year, but instead of training with the academy now I am training strictly with the USL team [Revolution II] and first team, yet another way in which they have been pushing me to raise my level, even though I’m still really young.”
What is one memory or moment you consider a highlight of your career?
Jones: “I think one of the trips I will always remember was the end-of-season showcase at FC Dallas during my first half-year with the club. I was initially brought in to play in a futsal showcase with the Under-14s. When they said that I was going to go with the team to the showcase, I didn’t know what to expect. The first night at dinner, I was told I was going to have to stand up in front of everybody and say a bit about myself since I was the newest member of the team, and coach Gary Hall had told the captains Trevor Burns and Nicolas Firmino to make sure everyone talked over me the entire time. After a minute of laughing and joking I was told I didn’t have to do anything and could go sit back down, but I remember knowing from the beginning of that trip that I was a real part of the club. My first start came in that showcase in a win against the Rapids, and then I closed out the showcase with a draw against Orlando City, and the whole experience made me go home over the break with a lot of confidence in my abilities, and the knowledge that I was in the right place.”
How has the Revolution Academy prepared you for the U.S. Youth National Team and college soccer?
Jones: “I have said this to a few players coming in and will say it to anyone else who will listen, but I believe that the goalkeeper coaching in the Revolution Academy is at the very top end of all MLS and DA clubs, and even beyond that for me specifically it is the best in the country. I discovered very early on after success with both the Academy and the national team that I have been able to succeed everywhere I’ve gone in part because of the quality of preparation that I’ve received from my goalkeeper coaches, Jasir Charris and Karl Spratt. … Even outside of day-to-day training we have conversations about how to improve athleticism, how to manage my load, how the previous game went during any given week, and what the next steps in my development will be.”
What has being a member of the Revolution Academy taught you about being a teammate?
Jones: “Being in such a high-level environment means that you learn very quickly what is being asked of you. In my case, I’ve been a team captain every full year that I’ve been a part of the Academy, but as you get older and older the responsibilities that come with that role change drastically. As an Under-13 player, being a captain is more about leading by example, making sure that everyone stays focused when you are winning 4-0 and want to keep a clean sheet, that sort of thing. When compared to being a captain at the Under-17 level at tournaments and trying to make a push for the playoffs, it’s a whole different story. You instead have to be able to talk to people in a way that will help them improve, being hard on your teammates when they need it but also making sure that they are willing to fight for you on the field.”
How has the residency program helped you since you joined the house in 2019?
Jones: “While I was strictly doing rehab, being able to stay around the team, go to training, and get in the gym here made a massive difference in my recovery, because I was able to stay connected. If I had been at home I might have driven myself crazy. I was able to live on campus, a five-minute walk from the gym, the first team grass field, and the Empower Field House, which allowed me to stay focused on my recovery and stay driven. If I didn’t have a good rehab experience, I’m not sure what would have happened to my soccer future, so I am extremely grateful to have been able to be a part of the residency program.
“Academically, I had already had to move to online school the year before because of all the travel, so I was able to continue with that. This time, instead of having to look at a computer for four hours in the car, I’ve been able to explore other things, like courses outside of my online program or new books, which will help me prepare for Stanford.”
How has training with the first team helped you become a better player?
Jones: “Being thrown in to the first team environment at such a young age means that you have to adapt quickly, but it also means you have more time to learn and grow comfortable. The first summer I trained with the first team I wasn’t even close to that level, which makes sense because I was barely 14. It wasn’t until I was invited to preseason in Spain [in 2018] that I truly became comfortable in that environment, around the other players, and it allowed me to focus on my game and improving, rather than worrying about whether I belonged. Now, with Revs II, I feel like I can hold my own and fight for a position.”
What are some of your long-term career goals?
Jones: “My undying love for the game means that I will be happy playing no matter the level, but in my mind there will always be two clear goals: to play in the Premier League and to represent the United States in a World Cup.”
When you’re not playing soccer, how do you spend your free time?
Jones: “I’ve been plowing through TV shows on Netflix ever since we’ve been social distancing and unable to train, so I’ve just recently finished The Blacklist, as well as Picard on Amazon Prime. I also have two dogs that I love spending time with even if they get a little antsy during the day, and as anyone at the residency house will tell you, I’m very into FIFA, as well.”