Though only 20 years old, Atlanta United striker Jackson Conway has a refreshingly mature approach to playing behind Josef Martinez, one of the more prolific strikers in MLS history.
“I think these games are important ... to make sure the club doesn’t sign a second striker,” he said Tuesday after scoring the second goal in a 2-0 victory over the Georgia Storm.
Conway acknowledges that his wish doesn’t look good on paper. But he also said, right now, he backs up a player who has scored 89 goals in 108 appearances for the Five Stripes. That’s pretty good company from a player who also is a good mentor.
“So if I’m not in the first team, I want to be with the USL team playing as many games as possible,” Conway said. “I just want to play. You know, I don’t want to want to be sitting on the bench for 90 minutes.”
Conway and Martinez have a good relationship. He said they talk often. Martinez is trying to teach Conway some of the nuances of the position, particularly hold-up play. Though small, Martinez is very good at keeping defenders at bay while he collects passes and gives teammates time to break forward. Conway is a large striker, as big or bigger than most centerbacks. His size is an asset that he wants to learn how to use. He said assistant coach Rob Valentino also is helping him learn how to take a touch with the ball that gets him away from a defender, or keeps the defender from disrupting the play.
Conway said Martinez helped him last season with movement inside the box, which resulted in Conway scoring against Nashville. It was his only goal in eight appearances for the first team.
A positive for Conway is that he’s motivated.
Manager Gonzalo Pineda was asked Tuesday how he keeps the Homegrown signings such as Conway and Tyler Wolff focused when they are competing against more experienced players for playing time. It was an interesting question because playing against Conway and Wolff on Tuesday was Andrew Carleton. He was Atlanta United’s first Homegrown signing. The team cut ties with him before the 2021 season after four less-than-productive seasons.
Pineda said the No. 1 thing is to show the players that he and his staff care about them. They talk to them about their routines. They talk to them during training. They will schedule an extra session or two to work with them.
The second is giving them chances, which is all Conway and Wolff said they want.
“It’s all on them,” Pineda said. “In the training sessions, if I give them five minutes, and they do great in our game, maybe next time it’s going to be 10. So that’s how they earn their spots. So I don’t see another way to motivate him more than giving them the chance when I see their ratings.”
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Atlanta United’s 2022 MLS schedule
Feb. 27 vs. Sporting KC, 3 p.m., FS1
March 5 at Colorado, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
March 13 vs. Charlotte, 4:30 p.m., FS1
March 19 vs. Montreal, 4 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
April 2 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
April 9 at Charlotte, 3 p.m., ESPN
April 16 vs. Cincinnati, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
April 24 at Miami, 1 p.m., ESPN
April 30 at Montreal, 4 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
May 7 vs. Chicago, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
May 15 vs. New England, 2 p.m., ESPN
May 21 at Nashville, 7:30 p.m. FOX
May 28 vs. Columbus Crew, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
June 19 vs Miami, 4 p.m., ESPN2
June 25 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
June 30 at New York Red Bulls, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
July 3 at NYCFC, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
July 9 vs. Austin, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
July 13 vs. Real Salt Lake, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
July 17 vs. Orlando, 3 p.m., ABC
July 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 9:30 p.m., FS1
July 30 at Chicago, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
August 6 vs. Seattle, 3 p.m., ABC
August 13 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE
August 17 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
August 21 at Columbus, 6 p.m., FS1
August 28 vs. D.C. United, 4 p.m., UNIV
August 31 at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 4 at Portland, 5:30 p.m., FOX
Sept. 10 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Sept. 14 at Orlando, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Sept 17 vs. Philadelphia, 3:30 p.m., UniMas
Oct. 1 at New England, 1 p.m., UniMas
Oct. 9 vs. NYCFC, TBD, BSSO/BSSE