FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – One year ago DeJuan Jones was beginning his senior season at Michigan State University, a speedy right winger with attacking sensibilities.
Fast forward 12 months and the 22-year-old rookie is now starting at left back for the New England Revolution, playing a significant role in the Eastern Conference playoff race from the backline.
It’s safe to say things have changed.
“He’s done a good job,” goalkeeper Matt Turner said of Jones’ move to left back. “He’s still got a lot to learn, but he’s really keen to learn and he listens really well, so he’s got a bright future ahead of him as long as he keeps working hard.”
While the Revs are excited for Jones’ potential, they also need him to perform in the here and now. New England find themselves thin at left back with veteran Edgar Castillo out with a rib injury, meaning Jones will likely fill the role for the foreseeable future.
The immediate future sees the Revs in the midst of a playoff race, currently occupying sixth place in the East with six games left on the regular-season schedule, two points above the playoff line.
“He’s played that (position) during the year,” said sporting director and head coach Bruce Arena. “We’re certainly in a situation where we’re lacking a little bit in that position with the injury to Edgar, so it’s been good to see DeJuan fit in.”
“We need him right now,” added center back Andrew Farrell. “He’s stepping up and playing big minutes for us. The more minutes he gets, the better he keeps on getting. We’re excited for the player he’s going to become. Every game, he’s getting better and better.”
Jones agrees that he’s improving daily. New England first tinkered with him at outside back in preseason, but his first five starts at the professional level came on the wing. That was until a 55-minute stint at left back off the bench on May 18 in Montreal, where he helped the Revs shut out the Impact.
Since then he’s made six starts at the position, including the past two games against the Chicago Fire and Toronto FC.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Jones said. “I’m just hoping to do my best and help the team contribute to victories; just play solid defense, then contribute in the attack as much as I can. I’m just taking this opportunity and making the best of it.”
Jones said Arena and the rest of the coaching staff, as well as his fellow defenders, have given him tips on positioning, covering for teammates, and making clean entry passes to the midfielders and forwards.
Each day Jones takes onboard as much new information as he can, knowing that he’s both developing for the future, and preparing himself to be a key piece of the Revolution’s current playoff push.
“It’s just being a sponge,” Jones said. “I’m taking in all the information I’m receiving to become a better player.”