In Cascia, Italy, senior Jordan Jones stands at the goal as the ball arcs through the air, trying to ignore the pain shooting through his feet and shoulder. He feels a rush of excitement as he learns that he earned a spot on a professional soccer team, despite being injured.
In January, Jones will move to Italy to play soccer for a second division team “A.C. Perugia.” While he will navigate through injuries, language barriers and living on his own for the first time, Jones is excited to have full independence and connections with new teammates.
At four years old, Jones was inspired by his friends to begin playing soccer for fun. He joined a travel club team as a striker when he was 12 years old. He moved his position to goalkeeper after experiencing back issues that did not allow him to run for the entire length of the game. Jones has been playing for his current club team, Rush Soccer, since he was 14 years old and has received college offers from D-1, D-2 and D-3 schools, as well as the NCAA and National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
“The minute he came out to play, to try out with us, [the goalkeeper trainer said,] ‘you have to sign him,’” coach of Jones’ club team, FSC Blue 04, Anu Baiyeroju said. “He is a very good goalie. He is ambitious, he is focused and he has good reflexes for a goalie.”
Even though Jones had college offers, he searched for other opportunities for his future.
“I didn’t really like how by the time I finished college and I would be getting drafted, I would already be pretty old for a soccer player, so I started looking into how I could potentially start playing professionally or semi-professionally at the youngest age possible,” Jones said.
His mother contacted an agent in Brazil who connected them with a team in Italy. First, Jones sent a highlight video of himself to the team and was invited to try out in August two days later. Then, he was invited to join the team in January despite playing on a fractured big toe, sprained ankle and sprained rotator cuff on his shoulder. According to Jones, the coaches liked his persistence and personality the most.
“He [Jordan] is also going to get exposed to a different culture and learn a different language and just have a different perspective on the world, so overall I think it’s a great opportunity for him,” Jones’ mother Eva Mineva said.
Baiyeroju is sad that Jones will be leaving the team, but encourages him to go to Italy because playing there is an opportunity for him to become a better goalie.
On a typical day, Jones wakes up at 5 a.m. to train. He jogs two miles to a nearby public school, trains there, jogs home and gets ready for school. After school, Jones practices with his club team in Aspen Hill, Maryland, which lasts two to three hours.
When he was living at his father’s house in Baltimore he would have to drive an hour to and from practice, which meant that Jones got home around 10 p.m. He would go to sleep at 1 a.m. at the earliest or when he finished his homework.
Baiyeroju described Jones as a serious, organized and focused player who rarely misses practice. He explained that one of Jones’ strengths is communication which is important for a goalkeeper, whether that be on the field or to his coaches.
Jones played for the CESJDS soccer team when he was a sophomore and now again as a senior. His position is striker, which is different from his club team position as a goalkeeper. In the past, back issues have not permitted Jones to play as a striker. A dosage of extra strength Tylenol before each practice and game as well as the shortness of the JDS soccer season has allowed him to play as a striker.
Even though Jones is excited to live on his own and spend time with his teammates in Italy, he is already feeling homesick.
“It’s interesting because even right now, I don’t live in Italy, but even my mind knowing that I will be living in Italy come January, I can already kind of feel the homesickness coming [on], and it’s made me value the time with my friends a lot more,” Jones said.
Cascia is a mountainous and remote town in the province of Perugia. Jones described Italy as one of his favorite places that he has ever traveled to and he is excited to explore Cascia as a resident.
Jones worries that learning Italian will be difficult for him. The team mandates that he must be fluent within six months, so he will be taking four hours of Italian lessons every day.
Mineva thinks that Jones will have ups and downs while living by himself, but he will learn and grow from his mistakes.
“He will have to basically recognize opportunities, assess opportunities for himself and manage his time all by himself… so that he can surround himself with people that will be best for him long term,” Mineva said.
According to Baiyeroju, Jones will encounter the expected difficulties of being in a different environment and not knowing the language in addition to a new challenge of competing with other skilled goalies for playing time.
“Of course there will be difficulties, that’s part of life. It’s how he handles it that will make him a better goalie,” Baiyeroju said.
Jones will defer from college for one year to play in Italy. If he has not secured a contract by the summer of 2023 that will pay for his living expenses, he will play for a college team. If he secures a contract, he will continue to play in Italy.
Mineva hopes Jones will use his education from JDS and his opportunity to play in Italy to do something good in the world.
“My hopes are that he will become a decent man, that he will have lots of opportunities that he can take advantage of and he’ll be overall a very good human being,” Mineva said. “He’ll use basically the privileges that he has had… for something good in the world.”