US National Team

Jones savors “unreal feeling” of making U.S. debut, sets sights on continued growth

1_28_23 DeJuan Jones USMNT

SARASOTA, Fla.DeJuan Jones had been dreaming about playing for the United States Men’s National Team since he was five years old. As a kid playing with his friends on the public fields in Lansing, Michigan, he imagined what it would be like to pull on that red, white, and blue jersey and stand on the field, side by side with his teammates, listening to the Star-Spangled Banner.

This past week, that dream finally came true, and it shattered his expectations.

“Man, it’s way sweeter, way cooler than I could’ve ever imagined,” Jones said on Monday morning from Sarasota, Fla., where he has since rejoined his New England Revolution teammates for preseason prep. “Just to put on that jersey and go out there and represent my country, an unreal feeling.”

Jones, who trained with the USMNT last January during a preparation camp but had yet to feature on a gameday roster, earned that opportunity with an international debut last Wednesday night in a 2-1 friendly loss to Serbia, playing the final 28 minutes as a substitute. The 25-year-old then claimed his first start three nights later in a 0-0 draw with Colombia, going the full 90 minutes while playing both right and left back.

That versatility could serve Jones well in a national team setup, as roster size is often limited, making a player who can feature in multiple spots particularly valuable. A winger during his college career at Michigan State University, Jones made the shift to outside back during his rookie year with the Revolution in 2019, featuring primarily as a left back in Foxborough. He spent the bulk of his time with the USMNT at right back, but did play the final 10 minutes of the draw with Colombia on the left side.

“Obviously I’m a right-footed guy playing left back, but I’ve got, what, 90 percent of my games at left back in my career? So, I’m definitely comfortable on either side,” Jones said. “It was good to show that versatility. If they need me on the right, I can play on the right, but again, I train left at my club every day, so I can play either side.

“That’s definitely a good thing for me, and they did mention that I’ll probably be playing on both sides, so it was good to show that I can play on both sides, especially at the international level.”

Jones was able to share both his international debut and his first start with a pair of Revolution teammates, as goalkeeper Djordje Petrović started and played 45 minutes in Serbia’s win over the U.S., and Dylan Borrero made his senior debut for Colombia in the scoreless draw. Jones and Borrero found themselves head-to-head on numerous occasions, just as they often do on the training ground.

“Djordje, I wasn’t on the field at the same time, but we shared a good embrace after the game,” Jones said. “Dylan, he was playing center mid, but he was on my side for most of the game. It was really cool to share the field with these guys, some of their first caps, as well, so for us to have that experience together was really awesome. Excited to be playing on their team this time around.”

More importantly, Jones was able to share the moment with his parents, who made the trip from Michigan to the Los Angeles area to catch both games at BMO Stadium and Dignity Health Sports Park.

“It’s incredible,” Jones said of having his parents in the stands. “They’ve been supporting me throughout my whole life, whether it’s in sports, academics. Any endeavor in my life, they’re always there, so for them to be at both games was a big sacrifice for them. It was really cool for them to be there, like they’ve been my whole life.”

With his first two international caps under his belt, Jones has trained his focus back to the Revolution, now less than four weeks away from the 2023 season opener in Charlotte. The fifth-year defender has both personal and team goals for the upcoming campaign, and he’s taking a day-by-day approach to his individual development. But that incremental progress is designed to achieve long-term goals, including a more consistent place with the U.S. Men’s National Team.

“Now that I’ve seen that level up close, played a few games, I know what it takes to get there, I know what it takes to get back there,” Jones said. “I know what I need to work on heading into this season, heading into preseason and the MLS season, so I’m excited to continue working and continuing to achieve more.”