Ontario’s Jermaine Jones: “We’re Not Scared” of Donovan, Sockers

by Gunnar Berndt

Fury could take huge step toward playoffs as ex-U.S. mates set to clash in historic matchup

By Gunnar Berndt

Ontario, Calif. – The Ontario Fury has been preparing for one of the biggest sporting events in the history of the Inland Empire, as the club featuring recent signing Jermaine Jones is set to host Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) Pacific Division rivals San Diego Sockers and Landon Donovan. In addition to the significance of Jones and Donovan being ex-U.S. Men’s National Team mates and FIFA World Cup stars, the match at Citizens Business Bank Arena also carries massive weight in terms of the standings for the Fury, which would clinch a playoff berth in the event of a fourth straight victory and a Tacoma loss on Saturday.

Jones’ Ontario takes on Donovan’s San Diego this coming Thursday, April 4, at 7 p.m. PT. Tickets may be purchased by clicking here or by calling 909-457-0252.

As part of the MASL’s first nation-wide television partnership, all the action will be broadcast live by Eleven Sports, which, in addition to streaming on the Twitch platform via its free digital channel Eleven Sports NEXT (WATCH HERE), is available via national cable/satellite systems (DIRECTV channel 623, AT&T U-verse channel 1665, Verizon Fios channel 597) and other cable and OTT providers (RCN 571, Atlantic Broadband 501, Hawaiian Telcom 1091, Sony PlayStation Vue, FUBO TV).

In its recent 12-2 rout of the visiting Turlock Express, the Fury exploded for a total of nine tallies in the second half. Midfielders Jones and Juan Carlos Gonzalez led the charge with five points each in the contest while defender Maicon de Abreu followed closely behind with four points.

“We worked hard and had a good team performance,” said German-American Jones, who made it 2-0 in the first quarter and added three more strikes after the break. “We had control almost for the whole game, but in the third quarter especially we played really well and made sure things went in our favor. It was an important game for us and I’m very happy with the result.”

The 37-year-old, who joined his current side following a storied outdoor career, already boasts an impressive six goals and two assists in just three appearances with his new side. He had a simple explanation for his early offensive success as a first-year MASL player.

”A lot of people don’t know, but I started as a striker early in my career,” he offered. “At some point I moved back and started to play midfield. I stayed in that position, but I still really enjoy attacking and scoring goals. Because of the shorter field, there are now a lot more chances for me to to that.”

Ontario currently finds itself inside the MASL postseason picture for the first time since late February, thanks to Saturday’s victory over the Express and a Tacoma Stars home defeat to the Sockers the next day. Jones and company prevailed in a dramatic shootout at Tacoma on March 15 which commenced their run of three straight wins while also crucially handing them the season series against the Stars at 3-2. As a result, another victory combined with Tacoma losing to hosts Dallas Sidekicks over the weekend would seal the deal for the 11-11 Fury in the hunt for the second and only remaining playoff berth in the Pacific Division, given its direct competitor from Washington state sits at 10-11.

Said Jones, whose heroics in the drubbing of Turlock earned him a spot on the MASL Team of the Week, ”We did a lot to put ourselves in this position and we believe that the door to the playoffs is wide open. Now we have the toughest game coming against San Diego, but we’re not scared. We respect all the teams, but we know the quality we have and hopefully we can show that on Thursday.”

Of course, Ontario’s clash with the visiting Sockers has drawn even more attention than prior iterations due to the highly anticipated duel of fellow former U.S. standouts Jones and Donovan. While German-born dual-national Jones amassed nearly 70 caps after making a one-time switch to the Red, White and Blue at 27 years old, Inland Empire native Donovan took the field a total of 157 times for his country and is tied for most goals scored all-time with 57.

The Fury’s biggest star was keen to provide his own perspective on the excitement generated by the upcoming meeting with his ex-United States teammate.

”It’s not a game between me and him but a game between the two clubs,” said Jones. “Yes, we both come from a background in outdoor soccer, but we had very different careers. He played most of his career in the United States and I played most of mine in Germany. Of course I want to win, but I see it like a normal game and I really don’t care who is on the other team, if it’s Donovan or someone else. I care about my team and that’s why I want to be successful.”

He continued, “It’s a bit similar with the rivalry stuff. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. I always want to perform on the field. But of course I know our fans care a lot about this game and I know we can give something back to them with a win. That makes me even more motivated.”

San Diego’s 8-7 defeat of Tacoma on Sunday saw the league leaders extend their own run of victories to a mind-blowing 18 games. The 20-1 Sockers are tops in the MASL in winning percentage (.952) as well as goal differential (+87) and average number of goals conceded per game (3.57), and they have given up by far the fewest total goals (75) of all 17 teams.

Despite Head Coach Phil Salvagio’s men having dominated the current campaign, the Fury has made life difficult for its Pacific Division rivals throughout 2018-19. After falling 4-2 at home in December, Ontario suffered two agonizing away defeats in January, a 3-2 overtime decision and a 6-5 result one week later, followed by another 4-2 home loss on February 7 that was an even closer affair until Guerrero Pino hit the open net with three seconds to play and ‘keeper Chris Toth off his line to join the attack.

In the two sides’ most recent meeting on March 10, the Sockers were on the verge of having their win streak snapped by their visiting fellow Southern Californians, who failed to close out the game despite a 6-4 lead in the fourth quarter and ended up losing 7-6 via a Kraig Chiles golden goal. San Diego is 9-1 in matches decided by no more than two goals this season, with the recent 8-7 road win over the Tacoma Stars coming after an early 4-0 disadvantage and serving as yet another illustration of the killer instincts displayed by Donovan, Chiles and company over the course of past months.

Said Ontario’s Jones, whose squad wasted several quality looks and only scored three times in the first half of the 12-2 victory over the Express, “We had a chance to look into San Diego’s game against Tacoma. I think it’s pretty simple. We know that they have quality players who would punish us for some of the mistakes we made against the other teams we’ve played since I got here. We have to avoid those and also bury chances like the ones we had in the first quarter and the second quarter against Turlock. If we focus on that, we definitely have a chance to beat the Sockers.”

In addition to former Stars and Stripes standout Jones (tied for fifth in MASL with a 2.7 points-per-game average), the Fury roster features team points and assists leader as well as active roster leading goal-scorer Juan Carlos Gonzalez (32, 14 and 18, respectively). The two midfielders will be looking for assistance from a pair of offensively inclined defenders in ex-San Diego man Victor Quiroz (2nd on team in assists with 10 and 2nd on active roster in points-per-game avg. with 1.7) and 22-year-old Brazilian Maicon de Abreu (2nd on active roster in points and goals with 23 and 16, respectively).

Ontario shot-stopping giant Chris Toth, who spent nearly a decade with the Sockers prior to his offseason trade to the Inland Empire, boasts a .741 saves percentage, good for second best in the MASL and almost guaranteed to be subject to a stern test from his former side. Ex-Fury striker Adrien Perez (25 points, 20 goals, 2.5 points-per-game avg.), who led the MASL in scoring until joining Major League Soccer outfit Los Angeles Football Club just over a month ago, has not been a member of the active roster since then.

San Diego has at its disposal the attacking prowess of American outdoor legend Donovan, indoor legend Chiles (7th in MASL with 28 goals, tied for 7th with a 2.5 goals-per-game avg., 10th with 40 points), the always dangerous Brandon Escoto (tied for 4th in MASL with 22 assists, 6th with 49 points, tied for 8th with 45 goals, 10th with a 2.3 points-per-game avg.) and fromer Ontario standout Leonardo de Oliveira (tied for 8th in MASL with 21 assists). Points-per-game avergage leader Chad Hagerty (3.0) has only made one appearance this season and is listed as part of the inactive roster.

The team’s stingy backline features the experienced Luis “Pee Wee” Ortega, who provides cover for veteran goalkeeper Boris Pardo (2nd in MASL with a 3.63 goals-against avg., 4th with a .738 saves percentage).

The showdown between Jermaine Jones’ Fury and Landon Donovan’s Sockers is set to take place this coming Thursday, April 4. Tickets to all Ontario Fury home games at Citizens Business Bank Arena may be purchased by clicking here or by calling 909-457-0252.