A year ago, Joevin Jones was cleaning out his locker with Major League Soccer’s worst team — the Chicago Fire.
Now, the lightning-quick Trinidad and Tobago native is assisting on some of the biggest goals in Seattle Sounders playoff history.
In the knockout round, it was Jones’ left-footed cross to Nelson Valdez in the 88th minute that netted the goal in a 1-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City.
And last Sunday, that Jones-Valdez combination worked in the same manner. Charging up the left sideline, Jones’ cross hit Valdez’s head in stride for the game-winning goal early in the second half of a 3-0 victory over top-seeded FC Dallas in the first leg of a Western Conference semifinal series.
“(Valdez) always attacks crosses. He is always in the right position. He knows where to run. And he is experienced enough,” Jones said. “I am happy to serve balls in there.”
Valdez certainly has been a key trigger man in these playoff matches. But Jones’ contributions — three assists — have not gone unnoticed.
“Joevin has probably been our unsung hero,” Seattle midfielder Cristian Roldan said. “He’s been good throughout the year, but he’s come up big in the playoffs.”
It took a full season for the Sounders to eventually find DeAndre Yedlin’s replacement at left back.
Last season, Dylan Remick, Oniel Fisher and aging defender Leo Gonzalez all rotated in at starting left back. The team jettisoned Gonzalez after the season.
That left a starting position open — one the Sounders filled in a trade last January.
After an 8-20 record, the Fire cleaned house, bringing in a new general manager, Nelson Rodriguez, and a new coach, Velijko Paunovic, who wanted to retool the roster immediately.
Seattle sent its 2016 first-round pick and allocation money to get Jones. Chicago turned that pick into getting defender Jonathan Campbell. The Fire eventually traded for Brandon Vincent to play left back.
“It’s tough for me to say, ‘Hey, we got the better end of that’ because they got a bunch of assets which they wanted to rebuild,” Sounders general manager Garth Lagerway said. “Anytime you have a new regime coming in, they are going to have different opinions of certain players.”
That’s not to say the Sounders aren’t giddy about the return in Jones, who fits in well with a nucleus of exciting young players, along with Roldan and forward Jordan Morris.
Jones is an attacking left back who has the speed to play deep at both ends of the field.
Earlier this season, then-Seattle coach Sigi Schmid often lauded Jones’ off-the-charts talent, but showed frustration over the 25-year-old’s inconsistent effort, especially on defense.
Lately, that effort has improved, even though Jones has been playing with a broken toe throughout the summer and early fall months — one that has required “three or four injections before every game,” he said.
“(Jones) has always been committed (to playing defense),” new Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “He is a very good (one-on-one) defender, but people might forget that with all the flash and attention he’s gotten with the assists and attacking movement.”
Now a veteran on the Trinidad and Tobago national team, Jones is enjoying his first season with an MLS organization greatly supported by a raucous fan base — and one that has the potential to make a long run in the postseason.
“Seattle ... the atmosphere is awesome. You don’t get to play in an atmosphere like this often,” Jones said. “I landed in a great position. I am moving forward in the right direction in my career. It is a blessing.”