Position: Center Forward
2021 MLS Matches: 7 matches, 2 starts for 233 minutes
2021 USL-Championship Matches: 6 matches, 5 starts for 382 minutes
What went right in 2021
Jackson Conway entered 2021 on a high. He scored the decisive goal for Atlanta United in their 1-0 win over Club America soon after signing his Homegrown Contract and looked to be a regular role player for Atlanta United under their new head coach with Josef Martinez on the mend.
Unfortunately, things did not go according to plan for the young striker who saw little of the field and often found himself behind Cubo Torres as the first-choice option off of the bench so the firing of Gabriel Heinze and a chance to reset under new coach Gonzalo Pineda may be exactly what Conway needs.
Asked Jackson Conway what has changed internally at ATLUTD since Gonzalo Pineda arrived.— Felipe Cárdenas (@FelipeCar) January 25, 2022
“Freedom,” Conway said. Previous staff (Heinze) wanted players at the facility at all times. “We felt like robots,” he added.
Having the freedom to grow, learn, make mistakes, and get better is critical for a young player looking to find his role with a club. It seems that this version of Atlanta United may be able to give Conway that chance. He also seems to have matured a lot over the last year, going from a player sent off for a second yellow from a shirtless goal celebration with the 2s to an earnest and hungry 20-year-old looking to get every minute on the field he can to become Atlanta’s go-to #2 striker.
Conway’s goal is to be #atlutd no. 2 striker. Wants to play well enough to keep team from signing another— Doug Roberson (@DougRobersonAJC) January 25, 2022
Conway: “If I’m not in the first team, I want to be playing in USL as much as possible. I just want to play.”— Joe Patrick (@japatrick200) January 25, 2022
Great mentality to have for a young player.
You love to see this mentality from our young players and it seems that they are rising to the occasion in the 2022 preseason.
What to improve in 2022
Strikers do a lot of work that does not involve scoring goals. Like we talked about with our defenders, there is a mental chess match that goes on for the full 90 minutes between the center forwards and the defense as they play with positioning, movement, and varying their reactions to keep their opponent off balance. Like most of our young players, Conway can greatly benefit from further developing the mental side of the game.
He can also work on his technical finishing and hold-up ability to help create opportunities for his teammates. He has a larger and more traditional target-forward frame than Josef Martinez but seeks to replicate some of Josef’s movement and tactics. If Conway is able to hold the ball up like a target man while turning on the speed, agility, and technical finishing of the man he studies under, then he will become a truly special weapon for Pineda.
Finally, like most young players, he can continue to listen and learn from team leaders about how to carry himself on and off of the field. New team enforcer and veteran presence Ozzie Alonso has already let his young teammates know that class is in session as Conway hilariously recounted to the media after the club’s preseason tune-up against the Georgia Storm.
Ozzie Alonso’s impact at Atlanta United: Jackson Conway said he was wearing a hat in the cafeteria when he was eating and Ozzie told him to take it off (and he did).— Joe Patrick (@japatrick200) January 25, 2022
The best part is that Conway seems to be listening and is humble enough to learn from guys who have done this for a lot longer than he has.
2022 Season Outlook
Let’s hold Conway to his own goals here. He wants to play as much as possible whether that is with the 2s or behind Josef as the #2 striker. In the preseason match against the Georgia Storm, Pineda gave him that chance as the center forward between Luis Araujo and Superdraft pick Erik Centeno. This is exactly where he needs to be to show he belongs and can be trusted when Josef is away on international duty or needs to rest his surgically repaired knee.
We should expect Conway to start the US Open Cup matches and to get a handful of spot starts at the MLS level, but also a heavy dose of the 2s. From what we heard last year, the coaches often leave it up to the first team reserves to take advantage of 2s opportunities when they do not have a conflicting MLS fixture or are not expected to be in the match-day squad. And since he is a striker, let's set a goal of at least 10 goals in all competitions.