Wednesday, October 31, 2007

ATH: Cobi Jones explained

From the US National Team Players Association

The Cobi Jones Career Report Card: A+
By Andrea Canales, 10/31/2007 10:00 AM

LOS ANGELES (October 31, 2007) USSoccerPlayers -- When Cobi Jones stepped on to the field for the LA Galaxy’s inaugural appearance in 1996, it might have crossed his mind that he’d one day line up for the team’s last ever game too. After all, some predicted that Major League Soccer would fold in just a few years.

Jones certainly wasn’t looking too far ahead.

“At that time, you’re thinking that you’re going to play forever,” Jones said. “You never think that it’s going to end, that things will wind down. You’re not looking at the twilight of your career. In 1996, in the Rose Bowl, I was just playing for the fun of it. I didn’t know if we were going to last more than a couple of years.”

It was a good thing for Jones that the league lasted longer than the skeptics had forecast -- his Galaxy squad was the original heartbreak team of MLS, losing three finals until the team eventually broke through to take the 2002 championship game.

Jones was captain of the Galaxy that season. The MLS Cup (and a second one in 2005) was just another feat in a long list of accomplishments he amassed in his playing career, including participation at three World Cups (1994, 1998, 2002) for the US, setting the all-time US men’s team international caps record (164), and registering both scoring and assist records for the Galaxy.

“He’s done it all,” said Galaxy midfielder Pete Vagenas.

Along the way, Jones became US soccer’s most recognizable icon, known to casual and dedicated fans for his bouncy dreadlocks and blistering runs up the wing. He served as an inspiration to countless kids, and even his own teammates.

“When I first came to the team, all I wanted to accomplish as a professional soccer player was for Cobi Jones to say that I was his teammate, for Cobi Jones to say, He’s good enough to play with me,” Vagenas said. “I thought if I could get that, I didn’t care what else happened. I could quit the next day and I’d be the happiest man -- if he would accept me as his teammate.”

Even sworn opponents of Jones always respected him. Current Galaxy coach Frank Yallop, who started his MLS career in 1996 as a gritty defender, recalled how his view of Jones evolved.

“I didn’t really like him when I played against him or coached against him, but when you get to know Cobi, he’s a good guy and a great teammate,” Yallop said. “He deserves everything he gets. He’s one of the best American players to play the game.”

To a certain extent, it’s difficult to believe that the 2008 MLS season will kick off without him. After so many years of seeing his familiar number 13 jersey dashing past rivals on its way to the goal, perhaps some fans took the phenomenon for granted. In the league’s 12-year life, Jones became the only man to play in every year for the same squad. In that time he’s scored 76 goals and registered 104 assists in all MLS play.

Proving the old adage that we don’t appreciate something until it’s gone, perhaps it was easy to overlook Jones stepping away from the game, the team and the league in which he believed so fervently. After all, fans and media were both distracted by other big stories. Would the Galaxy’s miraculous playoff run end in joy or tears? Would Beckham play? Would Frank Yallop stay on as coach?

Yet the importance of Los Angeles’ original Cobi was recognized by some. As Yallop put it: “Cobi means a lot to this city and this club and this league. He’s been great for us.”

One of the ways Cobi contributed was in his willingness to go into different media outlets to support and promote US soccer. He even briefly hosted his own MTV fitness show. “He shouldered that burden,” said Vagenas of the work by Jones to raise the game’s profile.

However, nothing hindered Jones in his quest to remain a top player for the Galaxy. He remained focused on that to the end, even with his promised retirement approaching.

“It’s surreal,” Jones said. “It will hit me once the season is over, like it does every year. When the season is over, you look back. This time I’ll look back and think, wow, it’s really over. I won’t be playing with this team again.”

At the Galaxy’s final home game this year, a tribute video to Jones was shown before the match. An emotional Jones watched teammates from the past and the present laud his competitive spirit.

“It was nice to see a lot of the players up there, some current players and players from the past on both the Galaxy and the National Team,” Jones said. “It was great to see all the kind words from a variety of players at different stages of my career.”

Jones was still digesting the finality of his decision to depart as he said, “That’s the last time I’ll be wearing a Galaxy jersey, representing the city of Los Angeles.”

However, it’s not as if Jones has no plans to keep busy in retirement.

“That is definitely one of my goals, to give back to the game and be some type of ambassador, or be involved with the Galaxy or US Soccer,” he said. “That would be great for me. I would love to use the notoriety I have to promote the sport and to do good things with the name recognition that I do have.”

In fact, that would just be a continuation of what Jones has already done.

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