Though he hasn’t gotten a lot of playing time this season, Kenwyne Jones in his first MLS start showed why he is an asset for Atlanta United in Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Montreal.
The forward, built more like a safety, scored a goal, served as an outlet for passes with his back to the goal, threw himself into challenges and, generally, treated Impact players like blue and black bowling pins.
“I’m happy,” he said. “You have to be prepared to do the role necessary. Sometimes you get called in the beginning, sometimes you have to wait on your chance, sometimes you have to come in off the bench. When that time comes, you have to focus on working hard and you take whatever chance is available.”
In Jones’ 73 minutes, he had two shots, one on goal, was called offsides twice, was fouled once and suffered a foul.
“He played a very good game,” manager Gerardo Martino said. “I thought he put in really good effort, even in addition to the goal. I think the whole team played well with different styles of play (comparing first half to second half). The whole team put in a good effort.”
Asked why Jones hasn’t played more, Martino said his preferred formation requires just one striker. That has been Josef Martinez, who led the team with five goals before sustaining an injury that will keep him out at least through Saturday’s game at Real Salt Lake, and then Hector Villalba, who scored two goals.
Martino elected to start Jones against Montreal and shift Villalba back to his natural position as a right winger.
But Jones, because of his height (6-2) and strength, brings a different skill set than do the other two players.
“We can look to play more long balls to him,” Martino said. “He’s a completely different forward than what Josef (Martinez) brings. Kenwyne is really physical. He’s great at holding the ball up and also good in the air.”
Atlanta United fans have wanted to see more of Jones, a native of Trinidad and Tobago. The 32-year-old was among the first players signed by the MLS expansion club. He consistently interacted with the team’s supporters on social media. Plus, his experience with more than 80 goals in England’s Premier League and Championship with various clubs, combined with the physical style of play that characterizes MLS, seemed a natural fit.
And then Martino was hired. It was going to be interesting to see how Jones fit within Martino’s preferred formation (4-3-3) and style of play (control possession, high pressure).
Jones started the first two preseason games and seemed solid as he worked his way into shape after not playing much in 2016. He didn’t score in the preseason games, but he ran the channels between defenders and offered a passing outlet to midfielders.
Perhaps preferring speed over size, Martino started Martinez as the lone striker in the inaugural game against New York Red Bulls. Jones came off the bench and played five minutes, which was typical in the next four games before Saturday’s start.
On Jones’ goal, Carlos Carmona intercepted a pass and fed it to Hector Villalba. Jones immediately ran into space between the defenders. Villalba found Jones, who one-timed a right-footed shot into the right corner in the 40th minute. He punctuated the moment with his customary goal celebration of an acrobatic backflip.
“I’ve been doing that for some years now,” he said. “Of course, it’s a special moment to score your first goal so it meant a lot. I felt like reeling in the years a little bit.”