Jackson Conway’s patience pays off for Atlanta United

Nashville SC midfielder Luke Haakenson (26) and Atlanta United forward Jackson Conway vie for the ball during the second half of an MLS soccer match Thursday, July 8, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Nashville SC midfielder Luke Haakenson (26) and Atlanta United forward Jackson Conway vie for the ball during the second half of an MLS soccer match Thursday, July 8, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Credit: Mark Humphrey

Credit: Mark Humphrey

Jackson Conway’s patience may have paid off with a goal that could determine Atlanta United’s season.

Conway came off the bench to replace Erick Torres after he inexplicably committed a handball in the box to gift Nashville a goal, and scored the game-tying goal in what ended as a 2-2 draw Thursday.

It was a valuable point for the Five Stripes, who were missing at least seven starters because of call-ups, injuries or fitness concerns.

It was a valuable moment for a team whose winless streak is now at seven games but now has a needed boost of confidence.

“Obviously it has been tough for the team, and we’ve all been struggling recently,” Conway said. “I don’t get too down on myself if I don’t play a certain amount of minutes. It’s tough playing in this league as a young player. You got to take these opportunities. You can’t’ just take it for granted. Every time I’ve played, I try to make the most out of it.”

Anton Walkes said he appreciates not only Conway’s patience, but also that of the other young players who contributed Thursday.

“I know what it’s like to be a young guy and watching the team week in and week out,” he said. “They came in and done very well. It’s something to build on. I’m proud. I know there will be more to come from them.”

Though some of Atlanta United’s supporters have been begging for Conway to play in place of Torres, who has yet to score in eight appearances, it was only his third appearance this season. It also was his longest. His previous longest this season was 15 minutes.

Conway entered the game in the 53rd minute.

His first touch was a simple layoff pass.

His second was the important goal. It came from a corner kick. Conway feigned inside, drawing his defender toward the middle, before taking a step backward to create space to shoot. Marcelino Moreno’s pass was perfect. Conway headed the ball down into the ground, which is what strikers are taught to do, and it rolled into the lower right corner.

Conway said the double-move is something that Heinze and Josef Martinez, who didn’t play as he regains fitness, have taught him.

“It worked out,” he said. “Definitely will keep that in my locker for sure. And it’s a short career so you got to do what you got to do, and I’m glad I’m starting early.”

Before Conway signed as a Homegrown, when he was trying to earn that contract, former Academy Director Tony Annan said last year that he needed to show that he would listen to his coaches.

“He understood what we trained,” Heinze said. “He was not afraid to play, and he wanted to help the team. I told you guys he was playing better and better with the team.”

The goal was reminiscent of Conway’s first Atlanta United. It came in last year’s Champions League game against Club America. It also came on one of his first touches in the game.

Though he has a habit of scoring when given opportunities, Conway may need to stay patient.

Martinez should return for the team’s next game against New England on July 17 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. If he’s healthy, he will likely start.

If Heinze elects to go back to the 4-3-3 formation that the team has used in most games, there is only one striker slot available.

If Heinze uses the 5-3-2 formation selected for the Nashville game, there will be two striker positions. The second striker spot would come down to Machop Chol, who started against Nashville, Conway or Torres.

Conway said he thinks he deserves to start.

“From what I’ve done when I came on I’ve been very aggressive,” he said. “I’m a different player than Cubo or Josef, who like to drop in. I like to get into the box, fight with defenders and win scraps. Teammates can launch the ball up to me and trust I’ll win the ball.

“It’s Gabby’s choice. It’s not just about yourself, it’s about the team.”

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Atlanta United’s 2021 MLS schedule

April 17 Atlanta United 0, Orlando 0

April 24 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 1

May 1 New England 2, Atlanta United 1

May 9 Atlanta United 1, Inter Miami 1,

May 15 Atlanta United 1, Montreal 0

May 23 Atlanta United 1, Seattle 1

May 29 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

June 20 Atlanta United 2, Philadelphia 2

June 23 NYCFC 1, Atlanta United 0

June 27 Atlanta United 0, New York Red Bulls 0

July 3 Chicago 3, Atlanta United 0

July 8 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

July 17 vs. New England, 5 p.m., ESPN

July 21 at Cincinnati, 8 p.m., FS1

July 24 vs. Columbus, 3:30 p.m., ABC

July 30 at Orlando, 8 p.m., ESPN

Aug. 4 at Montreal, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 7 at Columbus, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 15 vs. LAFC, 4 p.m. ESPN

Aug. 18 vs. Toronto, 7 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 21 at D.C. United, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 28 vs. Nashville, 3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 10 vs. Orlando, 7 p.m., FS1

Sept. 15 vs. Cincinnati, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 18 vs. D.C. United, 3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 25 at Philadelphia,3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 29 vs. Inter Miami, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 2 at Montreal, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 16 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 20 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 27 vs. Inter Miami, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 30 vs. Toronto, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Nov. 3 at New York Red Bulls, TBD, BSSO/BSSE

Nov. 7 at Cincinnati, 3:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE