It is not often that a 31 year old striker who:
- has 40 goals in 195 Premier League matches
- has 39 goals in 141 Championship matches
- captains his national team and has 23 goals in 80 appearances
- is available on a free transfer.
Atlanta United plucked this one quickly and now Kenwyne Jones will likely be the first #9 in team history.
First, an introduction:
There are many positives about this deal. Matt Doyle of MLSSoccer.com told the Mouths of the South:
"I think he'd be a very good signing if he stays fit b/c he's the type of center forward who makes the game easier for the rest of the attackers -- like what Sapong does for Philly. He'll carve out time & space for those guys to do real work. He'll also get a few goals and be a menace on set pieces. Plus since he's a CONCACAF guy you don't have to worry about him wilting in the heat."
Doyle makes a great point about Jones’ adjustment to the league. Often, players coming from Europe struggle with the adjustment period due to the climate, the travel, and the style of play. Jones’ time in CONCACAF with his national team will help him adjust quickly.
Nathan Carr, founder of The Home of Caribbean Football, agrees that Jones will adapt well:
"I expect him to do well. He’s spent the last decade or so in British football – barring a short loan spell in the UAE – so I think he’ll relish this new challenge with Atlanta. I think there’s a perception that MLS is a league which favours older players who just want to pick up their last big pay check. But you can see that the quality of the league is growing all the time and it’s not exclusively veteran players who are moving there. Jones might be north of 30 but he still has something to offer."
Jones’ age is something to keep in mind, as Charles Boehm points out:
If Kenwyne Jones does come to MLS, I expect he'll struggle to stay 90-minutes healthy week in/week out. But he'll tear it up when he's fit.— Charles Boehm (@cboehm) July 13, 2016
As we get deeper into the construction of the roster, this will need to be considered by Atlanta United and they will need to pick spots in the schedule where Jones can be rested.
Carr talked about Jones’ ability to adapt his game as he has gotten older, a very promising sign for how he will do here:
"His game has evolved over time. When he arrived at Southampton as a fresh-faced 20-year-old, he was very much about pace, running at defenders and stretching the backline. With age he’s matured into more of a back-to-goal striker who is capable of holding the ball up and knitting play together. We’ve seen this with the national team as he’s built up a close understanding with attacking midfielder Kevin Molino. That’s not to say that Jones no longer possesses speed, but it’s not as blistering as it once was. One of Jones’ biggest qualities is his strength in the air – he’s good at rising above his marker and connecting to crosses from out wide. "
Rumored signing Hector Villalba has shown qualities that would seem to mesh well with Jones, both in running off of the target man and playing wide on the right. That combination could be tough for MLS teams to stop.
Neil Blackmon compares him to another target man who has found great success in MLS:
Kenwyne Jones is basically Kei Kamara's age, except with success internationally and in England. Would be massive get for @ATLUTD— Neil W. Blackmon (@nwblackmon) July 13, 2016
The importance of Jones’ experience with his national team cannot be understated. He is a legend in Trinidad and Tobago and has captained them for the last five years. He part of the squad that qualified for the 2006 World Cup in Germany and brings that experience to the table. Carr talked about his place in history:
"He’s been entrenched in Trinbagonian football history ever since he was born. His uncle, Philibert, played as a striker in the Strike Squad that was agonizingly close to reaching Italia 90 (one point away to be precise). He learnt his trademark, acrobatic celebrations from Philibert and credits him as an inspiration growing up. Jones has been a part of the national team setup for 13 years and served as captain for the last five years. He’s been to a World Cup finals and played in numerous Caribbean Cups and Gold Cups. As a member of the 2006 squad, he was one of the youngest players to travel to Germany. Now he’s seen as one of the most experienced players that Trinidad & Tobago have."
Carr also discussed the leadership qualities Jones will bring to the Atlanta United locker room:
"He’s shown that he can be a leader with the national team and his leadership qualities will really be needed if his country qualifies for the Hex (they’re one point away with two decisive matchdays coming up in September). I think a lot of budding footballers playing in Trinidad & Tobago look up to Kenwyne as a role model. Similar to Dwight Yorke, he’s shown that it’s possible to move abroad and make waves in Europe and beyond. He’s not afraid to speak out, too, battling against Jack Warner for unpaid World Cup match fees and openly criticizing the TTFA in 2014. From what I’ve read, Jones is quite a shy, humble person off the field. I don’t know this for sure but I imagine his style would not be shouting orders at teammates but rather lending a hand in the dressing room, having a quiet conversation away from the cameras. It’s ultimately down to the management staff, though, on deciding who should be Atlanta’s inaugural captain. I personally believe Jones could do a solid job."
Atlanta United announced that Jones’ signing becomes official on August 1 and he will go on loan until the end of the year. Central FC in Trinidad and Tobago has been linked with Jones, but Carr says that nothing is yet official:
"It’s been reported that Jones has been named on Central’s provisional squad list for CONCACAF Champions League matches next month. However, I’ve been reliably informed that nothing has been officially confirmed between the player and the club at the moment. "
However, with Central facing off with two MLS opponents in their CONCACAF Champions League group, the more would make a lot of sense. Carr:
"If it does happen, I see the move as beneficial for both parties. Jones will need game time between now and January and Central can offer him that domestically and in the CCL, with two MLS opponents in their group. Playing against such opposition will help his overall adjustment process and increase his fitness levels. Central were founded by former Trinbagonian international defender Brent Sancho in 2012 yet they are back-to-back Caribbean champions having won the last two CFU Club Championship titles. So Jones knows Sancho from their time together with the national team – both went to the 2006 World Cup - and he’d be joining one of the Caribbean’s leading clubs."
Is this move a surefire success? No, any signing of a player over 30 brings risk. Jones has a lot of miles on his legs after nearly 500 games as a professional. It does not appear to have slowed him down yet, but it will catch up to a player at some point.
His ability to adapt his game is a strong suit that will be needed here as he gets older and the wear and tear of MLS saps his speed. Being able to be an effective target forward and link with his teammates, qualities Jones has demonstrated, will be even more important.
Another critical element is the leadership Jones will bring to a squad that will be constantly finding its footing in an expansion year. Nathan Carr’s point about Jones likely being a player who will offer a word to his younger teammates will be important for players like Andrew Carleton and Jeffrey Otoo.
Atlanta United president Darren Eales has talked about searching for players with a "pioneer" kind of spirit. Kenwyne Jones definitely fits that mold. He is the kind of addition that, even if he does not score a bushel of goals, will make the team better on and off the field.