While we write player profiles recapping the 2016 season, a season with an MLS Cup, it is also important to recognize that Seattle Sounders players and staff go through real life just as we do. In 2016 Darwin Jones lost his father. The team wore black armbands in support of one of their own in their April 16th win over the Union. That means so much more than our thoughts on his play, or an MLS Cup.
The Homegrown Player was in his third year with Sounders FC. In 2016 they tried to use him as a winger in the 4-3-3 with both S2 and spot-time in MLS. He was quite successful there in USL play, but couldn’t bring it to the first team.
The ranking is based on several hundred Sounder at Heart readers’ votes. Realio rated every single MLS regular season and playoff game as well as the two CONCACAF Champions League matches. He did not rate USL or USOC play.
Darwin Jones 2016
Darwin is a goal hungry forward that isn’t quite built for use as a traditional number nine. His speed works best out wide where he can use space to dribble and run. In some ways he combines the skill-sets of Zakuani and Fucito. He has a powerful shot that doesn’t get much bend. Lacks the crossing skill to start as a winger in MLS. He possesses decent vision for short passing and clearly enjoys helping teammates score. Looks to pass, but prefers shooting. Can be a direct free kick taker, but is best trying to pick up rebounds and deflections on set-pieces.
He will chase after bad opposition passing and can go hard defensively. Provides enough support as a defensive forward, but not enough as a midfielder. He is solid at clogging passing lanes, but can be beat by a more nimble fullback. Should be in the wall or an outlet on free kicks.
Jones is fast with a low center of gravity. He does surprisingly well in hold up play. His speed is better from wide positions with the ball at his feet or rushing after long balls. Not a great leaper.
Darwin started out the 2016 season looking to accumulate first team minutes following a strong pre-season in which he looked suited to the wide positions in a 4-3-3 formation. Jones entered late in both CCL games but failed to bring a spark. In the first match, his 5 minute shift was unremarkable, but active enough to earn him 15 minutes in the away leg. Jones's minutes and rating improved in Mexico but he failed to parlay his time into MLS success.
After those 20 minutes in CCL Darwin only earned 22 more minutes for the Sounders during the regular season, and his 2 MLS appearances were well down from his 8 in 2015. A combined rating on the year of 5.5 is a slight improvement over last year's 5.375, but it’s negligible within such a small sample size. It's hard to know what Jones can do with merely a 14 minute stint (6) against RSL and an 8 minute stint against NE (5) to rate. Both games were 1-2 losses and in each Jones brought a bit of energy but failed to make his mark on the match.
Jones didn’t feature at all under new coach Brian Schmetzer and it’s hard to see him impacting the roster next year. At different times in the season he looked to be passed on the depth chart by Kovar, Anderson, Gomez, Fernandez, and just about everyone else at the wide attacking position. Part of this was due to a prolonged absence after his father passed away, but the bottom line is Darwin failed to force his way back into the Sounders' plans.
I think Jones looked comfortable early in the year on the outside of the 4-3-3, but I don't see where he fits into the future of the first team. Darwin is nearly 25 and hasn’t shown much to be excited about development wise with any consistency. At this point I believe he really needs playing time, and near the end of Seattle's bench might not be the best place for that. It is entirely possible that he can emulate the path of Sean Okoli, but he may need to go somewhere else to get the amount of consistent minutes I believe he requires to do so.
Best Case 2017:
Darwin should be a full time starter in lower divisions, but could find himself trapped at the back end of an 18 again in 2017.