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Joevin Jones’ Sounders future is suddenly in doubt

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Jones leaves club to join Trinidad & Tobago, reportedly without permission, leading to speculation he won’t return.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

Heading into two massive games against Western Conference and regional rivals, the Seattle Sounders will be unexpectedly missing one of their key contributors.

Joevin Jones has apparently taken it upon himself to join Trinidad & Tobago before the opening of the FIFA-mandated window with the intention of playing in a pre-World Cup qualifier friendly against Jamaica on Thursday. Jones did this without the permission of the Sounders, according to a report in the Seattle Times. That not only means Jones will miss the upcoming Cascadia Cup games against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Wednesday and the Portland Timbers on Sunday, but it also puts his status for the rest of the season in doubt.

Although team officials wouldn’t confirm the report, that they didn’t exactly counter it lends it credence.

“Joevin is away for personal reasons that I can’t discuss,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer told the media on Tuesday. “We hope he can get those resolved, that he can come back to the team and continues to perform like he does. He’s been arguably the best left back in the league. We hope everything comes back together.

“What’s important for us is that the team doesn’t have any distractions. Whatever the situation with Joevin is, it will be handled and it won’t become a distraction.”

Sounders General Manager Garth Lagerwey also declined to shed any added light on Jones’ longterm future.

“He’s obviously free to go play for the national team in qualifiers and friendlies are always something we negotiate around,” he said. “I wouldn’t speculate as to whether he’s going to be out for a long time or not. He’s going to miss these two games at this point, just to be clear about that.”

While Lagerwey may not want speculate, it’s not too hard to understand what Jones’ motives may be.

The Jamaica friendly is followed by a pair of virtual must-win qualifiers against Honduras and Panama. Trinidad & Tobago are currently in last place in the final qualifying group with four matches left to play and trailing fourth-place Panama by four points. During June World Cup qualifiers, Trinidad & Tobago had lobbied MLS to get their players released early — just as United States national team players were allowed to do — but were denied. It is notable, however, that Cordell Cato and Mekeil Williams are so far the only players who have been reported as leaving their MLS teams early.

Further complicating the situation is that Jones has already signed a pre-contract with Darmstadt of the 2. Bundesliga, presumably for a significant raise over his reported Sounders salary of about $96,000. It had previously been reported that Jones would play out his contract with the Sounders and then join the German club during the winter transfer window.

But this move suggests that Jones is possibly trying to force his way out early. Darmstadt has already played three league matches (2-0-1), been bounced from the DFB Pokal and manager Torsten Frings has expressed a desire to get Jones in as early as possible.

This all puts the Sounders in a somewhat awkward position. Since the friendly is outside the FIFA window, the Sounders have the ability to block Jones from playing in the game. His contract also means the Sounders are under no obligation to release him before Germany’s transfer window closes at the end of business on Aug. 31.

There are some ways this could play out in a less acrimonious way, however. The Sounders could simply chalk this up to some sort of miscommunication, let Jones play in the friendly and welcome him back to training in a couple weeks. If this was really just about him wanting to help give the Soca Warriors their best chance at qualifying for the World Cup, cooler heads will likely prevail and the Sounders would surely be happy to keep arguably the best left back in MLS for a few more months. It should be said that Jones showed no signs of being upset recently, playing all 90 minutes in Sunday’s win over Minnesota United.

If this is at least partially driven by a desire to get out his contract, it’s also conceivable the Sounders could work out an arrangement with Darmstadt that nets them some sort of transfer fee.

This will potentially be an interesting test for the Sounders, who’ve never been in a situation quite like this before. In the past, they’ve tried to work with players who wanted to leave. Recently, that’s meant granting a player like Alvaro Fernandez an early release or agreeing to a transfer fee that may have been below full market value for Obafemi Martins. But Fernandez was hardly a key player and his release came only a couple weeks before his contract was up anyway while Martins’ move at least netted the team $2 million.

Whatever happens, this likely means the Nouhou era is going to get a kickstart as the young Cameroonian is at least in line to start the next two matches.