Atlanta United’s young defenders play well against Miami

Atlanta United goalkeeper Rocco Rios Novo works during the 2-0 shutout victory against Inter Miami on Sunday in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Atlanta United goalkeeper Rocco Rios Novo works during the 2-0 shutout victory against Inter Miami on Sunday in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

If not for the scruffy facial hair, it would be difficult to tell if a few of Atlanta United’s starters in goal, the backline and in central midfield in Sunday’s 2-0 win against Miami were old enough to drive, much less anchor a defense in an MLS game.

ExploreSFS podcast: Doug Roberson breaks down the win over Miami

But 20-year-old goalkeeper Rocco Rios Novo, in his first MLS start, George Campbell (20), Caleb Wiley (17), Franco Ibarra (21) and “old men” Alan Franco (25) and Brooks Lennon (24) combined to help Atlanta post its third shutout this season and first in eight games.

“It’s great,” assistant coach Rob Valentino said. “I mean, I think sometimes we sit down, we think about what you were doing at that age. Like I think about it like that, like they are miles ahead of where I was. Maturity-wise and in their own careers in general. They are in a pro environment, and not only do they have to perform but mature in their own ways, and I think it’s good to see that we have a youth that is actually putting together performances and can play at this level.”

Helped by Miami being reduced to 10 men because of two yellow cards given to Jean Mota before the game was 30 minutes old, the team limited Miami to three shots on goal and an expected goals total of 1.07. Most of that total came on a shot that Rios Novo parried into the path of a Miami player, whose follow-up sailed over the cross bar from 6 yards away.

But sometimes a little luck is good.

“As I have always said it is a young team, but I think that from the youngest to the oldest, they all do their job how it needs to be done,” Rios Novo said. “If it continues like this, we are going to continue doing big things, and I hope that results continue to be positive. We are going to continue working as a team.”

ExplorePhotos: Five Stripes return from MLS break with shutout win

Rios Novo, rocking a mustache, was described by Valentino as not showing any bit of his age during Sunday’s game. He commanded the penalty box well on set pieces and completed 22 of his 34 passes.

“We have young guys on the team, but they are here to help us,” forward Luiz Araujo said. “I was a young player once, too, now I’m 26 years old. But all the young guys can help us. In France, we had a very young team, but we were able to win the championship. Now the young guys can help us, and the experienced players like myself, Josef (Martinez) and others are here to try and help them however we can.”

The group also started Tuesday’s 3-2 win against Pachuca and may get another chance when the team plays at Toronto on Saturday.

Speaking with the confidence of youth after the game, Wiley didn’t care that the group is inexperienced. As manager Gonzalo Pineda is fond of saying, the ball has no idea how old you are.

ExploreMore AJC coverage of Atlanta United

“There’s lots of young guys on this team, and that doesn’t scare us,” he said. “We have lots of veterans on this team that help us get through it, lots of experienced guys. But we’re all in this together, and we all go with it and we’re doing well.”

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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 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

June 30 at New York Red Bulls, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 3 at NYCFC, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 9 vs. Austin, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 13 vs. Real Salt Lake, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 17 vs. Orlando, 3 p.m., ABC

July 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 9:30 p.m., FS1

July 30 at Chicago, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

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