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What to expect from Atlanta United’s forwards

Atlanta United players celebrate the third goal scored by forward Josef Martinez (right) in the preseason opening win against Chattanooga. (Miguel Martinez)
Atlanta United players celebrate the third goal scored by forward Josef Martinez (right) in the preseason opening win against Chattanooga. (Miguel Martinez)

The fullback didn’t notice Josef Martinez lurking nearby when he casually passed the ball toward his goalkeeper.

Martinez pounced, intercepting the pass, faking out the goalkeeper, and scoring to give Atlanta United a 1-0 lead in first minute of their game against Seattle in the Carolina Challenge Cup.

While forwards on any soccer team are required to score, Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino also asks his forwards, or strikers, to serve as the first line of defense.

Martinez aggressively pressing the Seattle defender, stealing the ball, and scoring is the best example from the preseason of how Martino wants them to play.

“They start the press,” he said. “They are in charge of starting the pressure and indicate to everyone behind them (what to do).”

Atlanta United has three strikers that Martino can deploy either alone at the top of the formation, or in tandem. Kenwyne Jones is a 32-year-old native of Trinidad and Tobago and veteran of the leagues in England. He’s big (6-f00t-2), so he provides an aerial threat on set pieces and as a capable defender on opponent’s set piece. It was his headed clearance on a cross by Chattanooga that sprung Miguel Almiron, who made the pass to Hector Villalba that led to Atlanta United’s opening game against Chattanooga.

Josef Martinez is one of the team’s three Designated Players. The 23-year-old native of Venezuela and veteran of Italy’s first division offers a different skill set than Jones. Martinez is smaller (5-7) and quicker. It was his quickness and tactical acumen that helped him score the goal against Seattle. But of the four goals he scored in the first three preseason games, two came on headed shots.

Brandon Vazquez may be the team’s future. The 18-year-old Texas native has a skill set more like Jones than Martinez. At 6-3, he also is a big target on set pieces, as a defender on set pieces, or as an outlet for passes to relieve pressure on Atlanta United’s defense. He said he prides himself on his hold-up play, which is a term used to describe someone who can control the ball long enough for teammates to push forward.

“Center forward is a big piece in the team,” Vazquez said. “It’s our first line of defense: Me and Josef and Kenwyne. We are the first ones to pressure, we are the ones looking to score. We are the ones our defenders look to get out of our half.”

Martino prefers to play a 4-3-3 system, with four defenders, three midfielders, two wide midfielders and a forward.

Just as Martinez did against Seattle, the forward will start the defensive pressure. He will indicate to teammates playing behind him which way to try to force the opponent with the ball, so that the pressure can be maximized.

“The team follows us to make sure we are supported so that we can get the ball back as fast as possible,” Vazquez said.

If the turnover can’t be created deep in the opponent’s half, and the pressure is broken by the opponent, the forward must still track back to help on defense.

“Pressure high, listen and then act,” Martino said.

PREVIEWING ATLANTA UNITED

Here are the stories that will appear this week on ajc.com, on facebook at Atlanta United News Now, at twitter @Doug Roberson and in the paper to preview Atlanta United's inaugural season. If you want to subscribe, here is the contact: https://subscribe.ajc.com/subscriptionpanel

Already online: 5 things learned from the four preseason games; the importance of set pieces in soccer.

Tuesday on ajc.com/Wednesday's paper: A look at the team's forwards.

Wednesday on ajc.com/Thursday's paper: A look at the team's midfielders.

Thursday on ajc.com/Friday's paper: A look at the team's defense.

Friday on ajc.com/Saturday’s paper:

An A-to-Z look at MLS.

A fun list of lists about the league.

Team-by-team capsules.

What’s a tifo?

Saturday on ajc.com/Sunday’s paper:

A Q&A with Atlanta United owner Arthur Blank.

A Q&A with Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino.

Player capsules.

Why have expansion teams had trouble making the playoffs in their first year?

MEET ATLANTA UNITED’S FORWARDS

Kenwyne Jones

Position: Forward

Home: Point Fortin, Trinidad and Tobago

Age: 32

Twitter: @kenwynejonestt

Among the first players signed by Atlanta United. … Scored 86 goals as a player in England in the Premier League, Championship and League One. … At 6-foot-2, he is a big target in the penalty box for crosses or on corner kicks. … Has more than 80 appearances for the Trinidad and Tobago national team.

Josef Martinez

Position: Forward

Home: Valencia, Valenzuela

Age: 23

Twitter: @JosefMartinez17

Acquired as a Designated Player on loan from Torino in Italy’s first division. … Made more than 100 appearances for teams in Europe. … 37 appearances for the Venezuelan national team. … Can play as a lone striker, second striker or winger. … Scored four goals in Atlanta United’s first three preseason games.

Brandon Vazquez

Position: Forward

Home: Chula, Vista, Calif.

Age: 18

Twitter: @brvndonv

Acquired from Tijuana where he was a teammate of Garza. … Prides himself on his hold-up play as a bigger forward. … Good on free kicks. … Has been part of U.S. youth national teams the past two years. … Likely a back-up at forward.

Romario Williams

Position: Forward

Home: Portmore, Jamaica

Age: 22

Twitter: @williams_romy17

Acquired in a trade with Montreal. … Missed most of preseason camp because he was called into Jamaican national team. … Played for Charleston last season. … Likely will be loaned back to Charleston this season.