Atlanta United’s Rocco Rios Novo continuing to learn

061922 Atlanta: Atlanta United goalkeeper Rocco Rios-Novo works during the shutout against Inter Miami for a 2-0 victory in a MLS soccer match on Sunday, June 19, 2022, in Atlanta.     “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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061922 Atlanta: Atlanta United goalkeeper Rocco Rios-Novo works during the shutout against Inter Miami for a 2-0 victory in a MLS soccer match on Sunday, June 19, 2022, in Atlanta. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

An unexpected starter in Atlanta United’s goal, Rocco Rios Novo is trying to learn everything he can from the valuable minutes he’s playing.

Just 20 years old – very, very young for a starting goalkeeper – Rios Novo has started Atlanta United’s past nine games because of injuries to Brad Guzan and Dylan Castanheira, followed by winning a competition against Bobby Shuttleworth. Rios Novo’s stats don’t stand out. His save percentage of 56.7 ranks among the lowest in MLS, but he has helped the team post two clean sheets, with a chance for another against Seattle on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

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But he said what is happening now will benefit him in what is typically a long career at his position.

“I’m someone who always tries to learn not only from the games, but also from training sessions and things that I’m doing day to day,” he said. “So I think I’ve learned a lot, but I also know there are things I need to improve on. But also that that there are also a lot of good things to build upon. But one thing I think I can highlight is just being able to always move forward from tough moments.”

Perhaps the most glaring example of Rios Novo’s inexperience, combined with his desire to learn, is the free-kick goal scored by Orlando in what ended as a 1-1 draw three games ago.

Rios Novo said he could talk about the goal for an hour. But to sum up, Rios Novo was still setting up his wall when the referee blew the whistle to start play. Mauricio Peryera struck the free kick into the opposite corner, catching Rios Novo flat-footed on the goal’s opposite side.

Rios Novo said he mistook the ref’s thumbs up as a sign to continue setting the wall. Instead, it was a sign that the referee was ready to start play. The whistle to resume surprised Rios Novo.

“Maybe the best thing in that moment is just to quickly cover the goal,” he said. “So that’s something that I just need to talk to the ref and ask why it played out like that and just something you can learn from.”

Rios Novo also has learned that young goalkeepers have a value. Across from him Saturday in the 0-0 draw against Chicago was 18-year-old Gabriel Slonina. In the minutes after the game at Soldier Field, reports surfaced that Premier League-power Chelsea and the Fire agreed to a transfer for the player for a reported fee of as much as $15 million with a loan back to his current team.

Rios Novo said he didn’t have a chance to speak to Slonina after the match, but was happy that he received the opportunity.

“I’m someone who’s always trying to learn from other players, so I’m always watching games or good performances of other goalkeepers and always trying to take the good things from their game, things that I think that will serve me well,” he said. “There’s a lot of really good goalkeepers in the league and also here at the club.”

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Atlanta United’s 2022 MLS schedule

Feb. 27 Atlanta United 3, Sporting KC 1

March 5 Colorado 3, Atlanta United 0

March 13 Atlanta United 2, Charlotte 1

March 19 Atlanta United 3, Montreal 3

April 2 Atlanta United 1, D.C. United 0

April 10 Charlotte 1, Atlanta United 0

April 16 Atlanta United 0, Cincinnati 0

April 24 Miami 2, Atlanta United 1

April 30 Montreal 2, Atlanta United 1

May 7 Atlanta United 4, Chicago 1

May 15 Atlanta United 2, New England 2

May 21 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

May 28 Columbus 2, Atlanta United 1

June 19 Atlanta United 2, Miami 0

June 25 Toronto 2, Atlanta United 1

June 30 New York Red Bulls 2, Atlanta United 1

July 3 Atlanta United 2, NYCFC 2

July 9 Austin 3, Atlanta United 0

July 13 Atlanta United 2, Real Salt Lake 1

July 17 Atlanta United 1, Orlando 1

July 24 L.A. Galaxy 2, Atlanta United 0

July 30 Atlanta United 0, Chicago 0

Aug. 6 vs. Seattle, 3 p.m., ABC

Aug. 13 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 17 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 21 at Columbus, 5:30 p.m., FS1

Aug. 28 vs. D.C. United, 4 p.m., UNIV

Aug. 31 at Philadelphia, 7 p.m., FS1

Sept. 4 at Portland, 5:30 p.m., FOX

Sept. 10 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 14 at Orlando, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 17 vs. Philadelphia, 3:30 p.m., UniMas

Oct. 1 at New England, 1 p.m., UniMas

Oct. 9 vs. NYCFC, TBD, BSSO/BSSE