- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Fresh off a five-year European soccer stint, Jared Jeffrey appreciates an odyssey that was rich in lessons on the field and cultural growth off it.

He boasts an enlightened worldview few 23-year-olds can share, and the Texas native has no complaints about his development as a player. But after struggling for first-team minutes over the past half-decade in Belgium and Germany, the midfielder knew it was time for a change.

“It was pretty nice to get a different view of the world,” Jeffrey said. “But at some point, you’re tired of playing in the reserve games and you want to be playing in front of all of the fans in the first team. So I looked at it and thought, ‘I better come back and see if I can break in somewhere in the States.’”

That’s where D.C. United came in. Once his contract with Bundesliga club Mainz expired last month, Jeffrey weighed latching on with a second- or third-tier team in Germany before signing with MLS.

On July 3, United claimed Jeffrey in a waiver draft. With the 2-13-4 squad emphasizing young American talent during its recent roster retooling, those elusive first-team minutes are within Jeffrey’s grasp.

“He’s going to compete to start for this team,” coach Ben Olsen said. “Right now, I think he’s steady depth that understands what we want to do here. He’s a committed kid, still young and hasn’t had a lot of games, so he’s hopefully another good piece that we’ll have over the next couple of years.”

As veteran John Thorrington, a former Manchester United reserve, put it, “There’s nothing like when everything’s on the line playing against the top-level competition in a particular country. It will be great for him.”

Jeffrey’s thirst for playing time makes sense considering the competitive instincts ingrained in his household, where board games are off the table “because it just turns into a huge fight.”

After all, two of his sisters are playing soccer at Yale and Boston College, the third is committed to Tulsa, and his father ran track at TCU.

Unlike his family members, however, Jeffrey never competed at the collegiate level. Although he was committed to play for Duke after completing U.S. Soccer’s residency program in Bradenton, Fla., he ultimately packed his bags for Belgium when Club Brugge spotted him at the under-17 World Cup. And he made his way to Mainz following the U-20 tournament two years later.

There, his skill set evolved. While he had already built certain tools for success, immersing himself in the soccer-mad German environment sharpened them.

“In Germany, you become more functional in your position,” Jeffrey said. “You’re more tactically aware of things. They call it ‘technik unter druck’ — technique under pressure. Just being cleaner on the ball and being faster and really being aware of where everybody is on the field and kind of adapting to certain situations.”

It was an understanding of the game that was evident as Jeffrey made his United debut Friday in a friendly against Mexican side Chivas Guadalajara.

Getting the start, Jeffrey offered savvy distribution as a two-way central midfielder, making the case for regular-season minutes behind incumbents Perry Kitchen and Thorrington.

“He’s a good connector from the back to the front,” said Kitchen, who played with Jeffrey on the U.S. U-23 national team. “He’s got good composure, he’s good on the ball, he’s a good passer.”

Jeffrey will look to play his first MLS minutes Saturday, when United travel to face the Chicago Fire (6-9-3). In the meantime, though, he’ll keep himself busy exploring the District with hotel roommate Luis Silva — another recent acquisition — and enjoying the simple pleasures of being back in the U.S., where he hasn’t spent more than four weeks at a time since his 18th birthday.

Even though his tenure in Europe didn’t end the way he wanted, Jeffrey doesn’t regret the gamble he took trying his luck abroad.

“I’m happy with where I am now, so I wouldn’t have changed anything about what’s happened to me,” Jeffrey said. “I developed as a player over there, and also as a person just growing up. It was a good step.”

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