In Josef Martinez’s absence, Atlanta United have consistently called upon Kenwyne Jones to play in the lone striker position favored by head coach Tata Martino.
Despite Jones and Martinez being two completely different players with unique skillsets, Martino has been adamant that Atlanta will continue to look to build out of the back and quickly break teams down on the run regardless of which striker is starting.
“When we have Kenwyne playing, he’s very good in the air and we try and take advantage of his physicality and ability to win balls in the air,” Martino said on Thursday. “Josef, when he plays, not only is he a great finisher but he’s also able to participate in the team’s movements and can circulate the ball.”
The Trinidadian has started the last four matches, scoring two goals and adding an aerial presence to a pacey attack. But in those four games, Atlanta have looked less dangerous than they did with Martinez in the lineup, scoring only a goal per game and losing three of four.
“I don’t think it’s any different. If it looks any different that’s because players themselves choose to do something different,” Jones said.
Martinez has already passed the six-week timeline initially established by the club for his return after he suffered a leg injury during international duty in March. Martino says he’ll stick with one center forward once Martinez does return.
“When both players were healthy and able to train and play, Martinez was the starter and Jones was on the bench,” Martino said. “Outside of special circumstances in which we use both players, what we’ll keep doing is play with one lone center forward.”
Tito Villalba has been the third option as a lone striker, with speed matching or exceeding Martinez's that could present a similar danger to opposing backlines. Villalba scored two goals against Toronto in his best game as a lone striker, and created dangerous opportunities against Seattle.
“I think the team adapts to whoever is playing in that position and, right now, Kenwyne is occupying that position,” Villalba said.
Martino seems in no particular hurry to rush Martinez back despite the recent attacking struggles.
“He’s been out for a number of weeks now. So, we’re going to be have careful and it’ll probably be a progression to get him back into the lineup,” Martino said.