As the first Union player to ever complete the club’s Pathway to the Pros, Derrick Jones is a pioneer of sorts. Playing for Southwest Philadelphia-based Lone Star FC, Derrick candidly recalls “we barely had a field to play on.” He was a talented midfielder who let his play on the field do the talking and that propelled Jones’ journey through the Philadelphia Union academy, stopping at Bethlehem Steel FC (now Union II), and finally to the first team helped him hone the mental side of his game as much as anything else.
“I think I’m more like a calm player… I don’t really talk on the field. Being in the academy, they taught me that you have to talk to your teammates and use your voice on the field.”
While in the academy Derrick learned the value of communication on the field as he grew and learned the Union’s tactical system, Steel FC provided more lessons on becoming a professional soccer player. Jumping right from the academy into the grind of an MLS season can intimidating or mentally taxing for a young player unfamiliar with such a lifestyle. The Pathway to the Pros, though, helped make sure that Derrick wasn’t phased by the time he reached the Union’s first team as the midfielder become Steel FC’s first signing in 2016.
“It helped me develop more as a player on and off the field… so when I got to the first team I was already in that environment. I had been there, so it wasn’t really hard for me to do anything on and off the field.”
Being accustomed to life as a pro allows players an added sense of calmness and composure, allowing them the freedom to express themselves on the field in both training and matches. Derrick used his experience to turn on field opportunities into memorable moments in a Union shirt.
“I remember I almost gave an assist and Warren should have scored. I watch it every time.”
Throwing in a quick dig at former teammate and current Union midfielder Warren Creavalle, Jones recalled his first-ever Union appearance – a friendly against English Premier League club Crystal Palace. After honing his skills in the academy and his mentality at Bethlehem Steel, now was his time to showcase his skills against maybe a higher class of opposition than he expected. And while he didn’t get that assist against Crystal Palace, he parlayed his hard work on the Pathway to the Pros into 26 MLS appearances with the Union and an eye on impacting the league for years to come. Derrick Jones set a successful example for Union academy players to aspire to for years to come.