By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Aug 17, 2016) US Soccer Players - Atlanta United FC can check off another first from it's lengthy list. The MLS expansion club doesn't play until 2017, but something unique happened on Tuesday night. Atlanta United’s first major signing made his debut against MLS opposition, scoring in the process. How is that possible? A loan move for Kenwyne Jones, the Trinidad center forward who spent a large portion of his career in England. Jones suited up for Central FC against Sporting Kansas City in the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League.
Jones was clear rusty after a few months idle. Regardless, his strength, hold up play, and dominant aerial game were all present in game that finished 2-2. Jones scored the second of Central’s goals, lashing shot to the near post from just inside the 18-yard box.
Calling Jones “dominant” in the air doesn’t do his abilities full service. In MLS, perhaps only New England’s Kei Kamara is as good a target at the striker position with his head as Jones. Even the previously unstoppable Kamara is having trouble adapting to a new team with a different playing style.
Kamara’s regression this season only serves to drive home the point that Jones figures to be the man Atlanta United FC builds around. He's that important. Without an established identity or any carryover of personnel, there’s no sense of how to play when things are going well. Best then to make the game as simple as possible. Jones can help do that, with his formidable back-to-goal presence.
No matter how Atlanta chooses to try and play, Jones should be solid. If they need a goal, Jones can simply camp out at the top of the six-yard box and look for crosses coming his way. That's worth stressing since the club doesn't have a head coach. Jones is a rock solid figure that will provide a safety valve when his teammates are under pressure.
It would've been a coup for MLS to have signed Jones a few years ago before he turned 30. He's still a useful player who can scores enough goals to win games. He's still one player with a squad and a coach yet to be named. How Atlanta builds is the open question. A cycle through the league normally exposes one-dimensional teams. Jones isn't likely to surprise anybody with his style of play. That didn't help Sporting Kansas City stop him in the Champions League.
For Atlanta, Jones's goal underlines their early progress. He didn't score it in their shirt, but in many ways he scored it for them. It's a proof of concept moment, even against a noticeably weak version of Sporting Kansas City.
It is the CONCACAF Champions League after all. This is a tournament that some teams value, others don't, and it's easier to take seriously at home. Jones’s game with Central FC against Sporting Kansas City was available on American television in Spanish. For English-speakers, the only option was a streaming version on CONCACAF’s Facebook page. That may be the wave of the future for a generation of soccer fans tethered to the internet, but at this moment in time no English-language television presence relegates the tournament to the background.
Atlanta fans who did catch it should be happy. Their guy did well. It gives them something tangible right now. There shouldn't be much doubt about Jones. He can adjust his game, play well against MLS opposition, and do his job. That's to score goals. Seeing him do it with six months to go before Atlanta United’s first training camp should wash any any doubt that did exist.
It wasn’t a game featuring their soon-to-be-beloved team. Jones wasn’t wearing the name and colors of Atlanta United. In terms of the process. The club still doesn’t have a head coach or enough players signed to it to play a pickup game. The stadium is still under construction. Top-level American soccer’s arrival in Atlanta remains far enough in the future that no one yet knows what to expect from the expansion team.
Nevertheless, an Atlanta United player did go out on a field and put in a good shift against a Major League Soccer team. When all you can do is wait, sometimes even a unique circumstance like your striker scoring a goal against Sporting Kansas City is worth celebrating. When it comes to actual soccer, there’s nothing else to get excited about. At least not yet. Why not get excited for this?
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