It wasn't that long ago that Atlanta United technical director Carlos Bocanegra was a player himself, giving him a personal, up-close knowledge of many of the players he is currently considering acquiring for the MLS expansion club which starts play in 2017.
In a career that spanned the end of the 2014 MLS season, Bocanegra played against hundreds of players both on the international stage with the US national team and on the club level in England, France, Spain, Scotland, and MLS. One of those was Kenwyne Jones, the veteran Premier League striker and Trinidad & Tobago international who signed on with Atlanta United last month.
While Bocanegra admits that Jones is a “well-known guy in CONCACAF circles” and that “everybody knows about him over here,” few MLS personnel executives can say they’ve actually played against Jones at the highest levels.
Bocanegra knows the T&T captain better than most because the two have faced off on at least four occasions: three times during World Cup qualifiers – in February 2005, April 2009, and September 2009 – and once in the English Premier League.
Bocanegra and the rest of the U.S. backline kept Jones scoreless in the three international matches, all of which ended in victories for the USA. (None of Jones' 23 international goals have come against the US, though that could change when T&T face the Americans in Jacksonville in September.)
However, Jones scored against Bocanegra's team in their Premier League match on October 27, 2007, a 1-1 draw between Fulham and Sunderland.
While Bocanegra said he doesn’t recall specific details of his individual on-field matchups with Jones, he does know Jones’ size and strength made an impression.
“What I do remember about him is that he’s a big, physical guy. And I remember his elbows were right around my chin and nose area, which you don’t like as a defender too much,” Bocanegra said.
“He’s a tough guy and I do recall for his size he has good pace, and obviously you see the power.”
Bocanegra said that while technical ability isn't Jones’ greatest asset, his speed and athleticism are first-rate.
“Sometimes he can be unconventional as far as – not in a bad way, but maybe his first touch is not fantastic every time,” Bocanegra conceded. “But he’s strong enough that he can power through you, almost. It’s not pretty, necessarily, but it’s effective.
“For a defender, that’s difficult to deal with,” added Bocanegra. “You’re not actually sure each time how he’s going to try and hurt you.”
Jones’ on-the-field strengths come through in another way, too.
“You notice it in his game,” said Bocanegra, “but even in a silly thing like his goal celebration, the back flips he’s doing. It’s a funny thing to say, but the athleticism shows with that as well.”
Bocanegra and Jones share a common bond, not just as experienced professionals, but also as long-time leaders of their respective national teams.
“He’s the captain of his country, which is fantastic,” said Bocanegra, who served as captain of the US national team. “He’s got that veteran experience. He’s been in a bunch of different dressing rooms, so he knows how to manage those.”
Bocanegra said Atlanta United were impressed by Jones’ character, both on and off the field, which they hope can help instill a positive, team-oriented culture at the club.
“That’s something we look at, 100 percent,” Bocanegra said. “Is he a good guy? Is he going to fit in our locker room? Is he potentially going to help our younger strikers around him? Is he a team guy or is he in it only for himself? Those are all the things we look at when we’re trying to build a team because we have to build a culture as well.”