Former United States and Los Angeles Galaxy star Cobi Jones is still entrenched in the sport he loves as a TV analyst and mentor to young soccer players, which is why he’s excited to see the current national team emerge as a contender.
Jurgen Klinsmann has allowed younger stars like Christian Pulisic (18), Julian Green (21) and Jordan Morris (21) increasing playing time in big games of late.
Pulisic especially has given U.S. fans hope that a young player can break into the starting lineup and become a star on the national team.
He was an exciting part of this summer’s strong Copa America Centenario run, and has even started some friendly games in preparation for next month’s World Cup qualifying, while impressing at Borussia Dortmund this season in the Bundesliga and Champions League.
Jones is pleased some of the younger players are being given a chance. He believes it’s a vital part of building a team.
“Of course I get excited,” Jones told Omnisport. “It’s important to build players up from an early age. Pulisic just turned 18, so getting young players in the squad sets up a great foundation.”
Jones, who starred on the national team from 1992 to 2004, amassed 15 international goals in 164 caps as a box-to-box midfielder. He understands the value of working exciting young players into the squad to learn from the veterans.
“It’s extremely important to give the young players experience,” Jones said.
“The best teams I’ve been on have had a great mix [of youth and veterans]. Any great team needs that mix, because the veterans can teach the younger players the tricks of the trade.”
The U.S. will face Mexico in a huge 2018 World Cup qualifying game in November.
Klinsmann’s side beat their top rivals 2-0 in a friendly earlier this year, but El Tri will play with a different level of determination this time around.
“There are no secrets at this point,” Jones said despite the fact Mexico will likely have Giovani Dos Santos back in the squad after he declined a call-up for last summer’s Copa America Centenario.
“They have been CONCACAF rivals for years, and I think it’s going to be chippy. Everyone on the U.S. squad is hoping for another 2-0 win.”
Entering the Hexagonal, the U.S. will compete against Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago for a spot in the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The top three teams will automatically qualify, with a fourth team facing off in an international playoff for the final slot. The U.S. has not missed a World Cup since 1986.
And while Jones’ focus might be on the USMNT’s younger players, he is also working with the Let’s Play initiative by Dr Pepper Snapple Group, which is focused on keeping kids active.
“Kids don’t start out by being a soccer player, they start out with a variety of different sports and that starts by getting outdoors,” Jones said. “You need a good base; kids need an hour of daily play. I have a five-year-old and a three-year-old, and you don’t want to be on the wrong side of percentage of active play.”