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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

From Lone Star to World Cup, on Derrick Jones' Under-20 call-up

Derrick Jones, right, has gone from Junior Lone Star's youth team
to the U.S. Under-20 squad at this month's World Cup. (AP)
“I think the future of soccer on the global stage relies on kids coming from the inner-cities.”

That sentiment was being relayed to me Monday evening at Penn Wood Middle School by Neewillie Saie, the first-team coach for Junior Lone Star. The club hits a milestone Wednesday when they travel to South Jersey to take on Ocean City Nor’easters in the first round of the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the first time that the club founded in 2001 has advanced to the main draw of the 104-year-old domestic cup competition.

Tuesday featured a bit of news with similar resonance for Junior Lone Star’s standing in the American landscape: Derrick Jones, the Ghanaian-born midfielder who traces his American soccer roots to Junior Lone Star, was named to the U.S. roster for the Under-20 World Cup that begins this month.

The two pieces of news aren’t related. Jones was famously plucked from Junior Lone Star at age 15, already an imposing midfielder who has grown into a 6-foot-4 stature, when the Lone Stars played a Union academy side. Since, Jones has been among the pioneering members of the Union Academy at YSC Sports in Wayne before signing as a Homegrown Player last summer, ending a nearly five-year drought in that department.

Jones was among the minutes leaders for Bethlehem Steel’s inaugural team and has established himself as a regular with the Union this year, playing eight games and making five starts. He was cleared to represent the U.S. in a competitive match just last week, having played in one match and several training camps for the Under-20s. Jones previously represented Ghana at the U-15 level.

I happened to be chatting with the Junior Lone Star coaching staff and players Monday, so I figured I’d ask what effect Jones’ ascent has had on the club. (It’s one of many quality nuggets for which I simply have no room in the story in Wednesday’s Delco Times.)

“It changes a whole lot,” said Bobby Ali, a co-founder of the club and now the Under-23 coach after a successful stint as the first-team skipper. “It helps us get a lot of players because when they come here, they think they’re going to get the same opportunities that Derrick Jones had. It’s a good name for us, a good name for us. People feel that when they come here.”

Wednesday’s article focuses on the first team, but it’s worth pointing out that Junior Lone Star also fields U-23 and U-19 sides. The Under-23 team plays in the Philadelphia Premier Soccer League (PPSL) alongside a senior team, which also plays in the National Premier Soccer League’s Keystone Conference. The ultimate aspiration would be to get U-23s into the Open Cup eventually, and that could come to fruition down the road.

For now, Junior Lone Star hopes to position itself in an important role, as Saie indicates. They have a foothold in a community where many talents like Jones can go overlooked, and greater visibility for the club means greater chance of those talents being spotted.

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