With five matches left to play in the regular season, Atlanta United 2 has a new record-holder for goals scored in a season. Jackson Conway entered Saturday’s match against FC Tulsa tied with previous record-holder Aiden McFadden at 8 goals.
Conway gave the 2s a rare lead in the 64th minute with his record-breaking ninth goal of the season. Tristan Trager sent a free kick from the right flank to the back post, where Nick Firmino headed across for the 20-year-old striker to finish with his left foot.
Tulsa managed to claw back a goal to tie the match, but Conway had other ideas.
In the 89th minute, Jonny Villal took a beautiful touch in the midfield to spring himself free towards goal. Ahead he saw Conway lurking between Tulsa’s centerbacks and slipped a perfectly-weighted pass into the box. Conway calmly settled the pass and slotted his shot between the legs of Austin Wormell for his 10th goal of the season.
With his record-setting brace, Conway has scored 10 goals in 20 matches with the 2s, 5 of those coming in two matches against the Charleston Battery.
Conway has quietly emerged as a more mature and well-rounded striker this season with the 2s. After largely being relegated to the purgatory of bench appearances with the senior team for the last year, Conway took full advantage of his training opportunities with both the senior side and the 2s, and took on the role as being a team leader and veteran presence for a very young 2s team. Referring to Conway as being a veteran presence seems odd considering he is only 20 years old, but he relishes it. When asked about his record-setting performance, Conway chose to talk about the team rather than his personal accomplishment.
Yeah, it’s huge. Huge personally and it’s big for the team as well because we’ve had a tough year, you know? It’s really important that I do it for them because they work so hard. The whole team deserved the win tonight and I couldn’t be more happy for them and myself. On to the next, Wednesday
His play on the field has also grown with his passing greatly improving along with his hold-up play. While he has created a few goals of his own, Conway does well when playing off of an attacking teammate who he can feed and who can also set him up. Several players have filled that role this year, but none as significantly as Tristan Trager. When Trager arrived in June, his new on-field partnership with Conway sparked an offensive firestorm for a 2s team that had previously been struggling to translate good possession and play into goals. Conway’s new freedom to find the game rather than just staying high as a target proved transformative for him and for the team. He could use his improved passing ability and soccer IQ to reward the runs of his teammates and create dangerous chances in the attacking third. He could also be a tenacious menace in the high press and a constant threat to keep opposing defenses honest.
There are still plenty of elements to his game that he can improve on but his growth from last year to this one shows how much higher he can ascend when given adequate playing time. With questions swirling around the senior team, Conway may have earned his chance to play a larger role in MLS in 2023.
Congratulations, Jackson. Let’s see if you can make it to 15 goals.