Clement Diop’s turn to start for Atlanta United

Atlanta United goalkeeper Clément Diop #25 warms up before the match against Chicago Fire FC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA on Sunday April 23, 2023. (Photo by Alex Slitz/Atlanta United)

Credit: Alex Slitz/Atlanta United

Credit: Alex Slitz/Atlanta United

Atlanta United goalkeeper Clément Diop #25 warms up before the match against Chicago Fire FC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA on Sunday April 23, 2023. (Photo by Alex Slitz/Atlanta United)

After most Atlanta United training sessions, goalkeeper Clement Diop will stay behind to work with his teammates who want to practice their shooting.

Diop, who signed in the offseason as a free agent and started the season as the third-string behind Brad Guzan and Quentin Westberg, also has traveled with the team on some road trips despite knowing that he wasn’t going to make the game-day roster.

He’s been a pro, Atlanta United manager Gonzalo Pineda said Tuesday.

That work and focus helped Diop when he was put in to replace the injured Westberg, who was in for the injured Guzan, in the second half of Sunday’s 2-1 win against Chicago. Diop will get several more opportunities, starting with Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup match against Memphis at Kennesaw State, and possibly Saturday’s MLS match at Nashville.

“I mean, at that point there is pressure to not get injured because I feel like there is a spell on this club,” Diop said as a joke. “It feels like every goalkeeper is getting injured this year. I feel like I am going to try to stay healthy at least, you know. That’s the most important right now.”

Diop could be seen fervently warming up during halftime of the game against Chicago. Diop usually does some work at halftime, but it appeared that he was getting ready with more urgency. Westberg’s knee injury hadn’t yet been announced.

Diop came on and performed well, making two saves and completing all of his passes. The goal scored by Chicago wasn’t Diop’s fault. In fact, he saved the first shot in a one-on-one situation with Kacper Przyzbylko, but couldn’t stop the follow-up.

“It is not easy for a goalkeeper to come into a game at that moment, with that amount of pressure and do what he did,” Pineda said. “He did a great job, so I am very happy with his performance, and as always, the message to the players is that this is about everyone. Everyone can impact the game in any moment, and you have to be ready for the opportunity.”

Derrick Etienne said he wishes that could have done enough to help Diop get the shutout. The goal was scored in the 90th minute. The sequence started with a misplaced back pass from Franco Ibarra that split centerbacks Miles Robinson and JuanJo Purata and went to Przyzbylko.

“I really wish we were able to clean that up so he could get a clean sheet because I think he deserves it with the work he puts in after practice every single day,” Etienne said Sunday. “He’s very athletic, and then he brings a lot of confidence to the ball that you saw. He feels real comfortable with people running at him and pressing him. He has the patience, he has the composure and he has the skill to be able to find a good pass, and I think you saw that today.”

Atlanta United signed Westberg and Diop, both MLS veterans, to backup Guzan to avoid what the team went through last year when its top two goalkeepers, Guzan and Dylan Castanheira went down with season-ending Achilles injuries and the third-string keeper, Bobby Shuttleworth, retired after a series of lackluster starters. Rocco Rios Novo and Raul Gudino, signed during the season, did their best but lacked either experience or the skills to execute Pineda’s tactics, which require goalkeepers to be accurate passers.

Diop totaled 50 starts, most with Montreal, before signing with Atlanta United. It seemed improbable that Atlanta United would again see a series of injuries decimate its goalkeepers. Guzan is expected to miss at least seven more weeks because of a torn MCL sustained against NYCFC on April 8. Westberg landed awkwardly on his right knee during warmups against Chicago. The knee was hit sometime during the first half and began to swell. Pineda said Tuesday that Westberg suffered a minor patella injury.

In came Diop.

Diop said he worked after training sessions to stay sharp, just in case he was ever needed.

“When we train between goalkeepers, we see goalkeeper shots,” he said. “No disrespect to nobody, but Thiago is not going to shoot like (coach) Liam (Curran). So, I am trying to see as much as possible because I feel like if I can save it during practice, I have a better chance to save it during a game. That’s about it for me.”

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Atlanta United’s 2023 MLS schedule

Feb. 25 Atlanta United 2, San Jose Earthquakes 1

March 4 Atlanta United 1, Toronto FC 1

March 11 Atlanta United 3, Charlotte FC 0

March 18 Atlanta United 5, Portland 1

March 25 Columbus 6, Atlanta United 1

April 1 Atlanta United 1, New York Red Bulls 0

April 8 Atlanta United 1, New York City FC 1

April 15 Atlanta United 2, Toronto FC 2

April 23 Atlanta United 2, Chicago 1

April 29 at Nashville SC, 1:30 p.m., Fox

May 6 at Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m.

May 13 vs. Charlotte FC, 7:30 p.m.

May 17 vs. Colorado Rapids, 7:30 p.m.

May 20 at Chicago Fire FC, 8:30 p.m.

May 27 at Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m.

May 31 vs. New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m., FS1

June 3 at Los Angeles FC, 10:30 p.m.

June 10 vs. D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

June 21 vs. New York City FC, 7:30 p.m.

June 24 at New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

July 2 vs. Philadelphia Union, 4 p.m., Fox

July 8 at CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

July 12 at New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m.

July 15 vs. Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m., FS1

Aug. 20 at Seattle Sounders, 10:30 p.m.

Aug. 26 vs. Nashville SC, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 30 vs. FC Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 2 at FC Dallas, 8:30 p.m.

Sept. 16 vs. Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 20 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 23 vs. CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 4 at Philadelphia Union, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 7 vs. Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 21 at FC Cincinnati, TBA