FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- For Jermaine Jones, Saturday’s match couldn’t come soon enough.
After undergoing sports hernia surgery in February, the prized midfielder underwent weeks of rehabilitation. He watched New England Revolution teammates stumble out of the gate, and pined for the day he’d be able to aid them on the pitch.
Last week he was finally cleared to partake in training without limitations, and following a full week of unimpeded progress Jones made his 2015 season debut in a 0-0 draw against the Columbus Crew at Gillette Stadium on Saturday.
“It was pretty nice,” Jones said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been out there playing. It’s always nice to be back on the field.”
But even though Jones was back, he wasn’t thrown into Saturday's match haphazardly -- and with good reason, all things considered.
Knowing that there was no need to rush his star midfielder back into action this early in the season, Revolution coach Jay Heaps and the club’s medical staff worked out a plan to manage Jones’ reintroduction. That plan: put Jones in the lineup, but then bring on Andy Dorman at halftime to spell him.
“The idea was to get him a full warm-up, and get him through a normal warm-up with our guys rather than bringing him in with only 15 minutes at halftime,” Heaps said.
Not surprisingly, Jones, who endured the pain associated with the sports hernia all of last season, reluctantly agreed.
“Of course, I want to play more,” Jones said. “The coach and I talked before the game. I felt good during the first half.”
To no one’s surprise, Jones, one of the most physical players on the Revolution roster, didn’t make it through the first half without incident.
As Tony Tchani tried to work the ball down the left, Jones went right in for a tackle and took out the Crew midfielder in the process. Referee Silviu Petrescu didn’t hesitate, either -- he raised his yellow card in Jones’ direction.
“Yeah, that happens when you talk too much,” Jones said of Tchani, with a laugh. “It was just trash-talking in the game, so I take the yellow. I like the games [against Columbus]. He’s a good guy, and he’s a good player.”
Despite Jones’ presence, the Revolution struggled offensively, with a stiff wind in their face and a disciplined Crew XI to contend with. They fired only five shots, and failed to truly test Crew keeper Steve Clark.
“I felt like we tried to hit the ball too long too often,” Jones said. “We played into Columbus’ hands, and all the times we keep the ball on the ground, you [saw] that we created some chances.”
The struggles were evident, but striker Juan Agudelo said that Jones’ presence made a “big-time” difference as compared to the club’s first five games.
“He’s the type of player where his presence in the midfield, it’s tough for opponents to deal with,” Agudelo said. “It gives you a lot of confidence with his ability to play the long ball, and it’s good as a striker, because you know that he can hit the ball.”
All told, Jones connected on 78.6 percent of his passes, fired a close-range shot that was blocked by Michael Parkhurst in the eighth minute, and sent away two clearances for good measure.
It was a solid performance from a player who hadn’t suited up for the Revolution since December, but one that Jones wasn’t exactly going to brag about.
“I know that I can play better,” Jones said. “But it was my first game in three months, and now we have [another] good week to train, and I hope I can make the next start against Philadelphia.”