Rocco Rios Novo ready to challenge to be an Atlanta United starter

Atlanta United goalkeeper Rocco Rios Novo celebrates after helping the club defeat Alajuelense 1-0 in a Champions League game in Costa Rica.

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Atlanta United goalkeeper Rocco Rios Novo celebrates after helping the club defeat Alajuelense 1-0 in a Champions League game in Costa Rica.

Rocco Rios Novo was known for two things during his first loan spell with Atlanta United last season.

The first was his efforts to replace Brad Guzan in goal and helping Atlanta United advance in the Champions League.

The second was his glorious mustache, one that would make Thomas Magnum jealous.

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Rios Novo and his mustache, which he said is a part of his look now, are back for a second loan spell from Lanus in Argentina. And he hopes to be known for a third thing: becoming a starter.

“My goal is always to be at the top,” he said. “So I think Bobby’s (Shuttleworth) a very good goalkeeper, and I think training with him is going to help me to improve a lot. But just like at every club, there’s always healthy competition. And that’s always my goal.”

Rios Novo came back to Atlanta United because Guzan suffered a season-ending injury to his Achilles tendon.

Rios Novo was on the bench for last week’s loss at Montreal. The team will host Chicago on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Rios Novo said coming back to a club, area, manager and teammates that he knows well after spending most of last year away has made him happy.

“It’s a great group, creative group of players, great group of people, so you know I feel very comfortable being around these guys,” he said.

Manager Gonzalo Pineda last week said he expects Rios Novo to push Shuttleworth and challenge for a starting spot. He said he likes how well Rios Novo can play with the ball at his feet and his presence in goal.

Rios Novo credited his passing with coming up in the Lanus academy, which stresses that its goalkeepers must be able to start possession.

He acknowledges that he isn’t the tallest (5-foot-10) or biggest goalkeeper, but agrees that he has a way of seeming bigger once he is on the field.

“I feel very confident in my abilities and in my qualities,” he said.

Asked if he hoped to play well enough to turn the loan into a permanent transfer, the 19-year-old Rios Novo gave a veteran’s answer.

“I have a contract until the end of the year, and after that we’ll see what happens, but I’m very focused on the present, as I said before, just really happy for the opportunity and trying to do what I can to get better every day,” he said.

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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 vs. Chicago, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

May 15 vs. New England, 1:30 p.m., ESPN

May 21 at Nashville, 7:30 p.m. FOX

May 28 vs. Columbus Crew, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

June 19 vs. Miami, 3 p.m., ESPN2

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, 6 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

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