After Atlanta United’s 4-0 win over Colorado Rapids on May 17, there was one point that head coach Gonzalo Pineda wanted to make clear in his postgame press conference.
“Since it is the last question, I want to reward the team with another positive. A massive positive to me is a clean sheet,” he said. “It’s been a long time since we didn’t get one, so I want to say that’s one of the main positives as the coach tonight.”
The last question Pineda received from the media was actually about Tyler Wolff, who scored his first career MLS goal Wednesday night, but the head coach made sure to use his remaining time to call attention to the fact Atlanta United recorded a clean sheet. It was the first time his team kept an opposing side off the scoreboard since the 1-0 win over New York Red Bulls on April 1.
With a scoreline as one-sided as 4-0, it’s easy to talk about the goal scorers – Atlanta United had four different ones on the night. However, it was clear that the team took a lot of pride in keeping their opponent scoreless. In the locker room, fullback Brooks Lennon, who recorded his third multi-assist game of his career and was named to the MLS Team of the Matchday, echoed Pineda.
“First things first, we kept a clean sheet,” Lennon said. “As a defender myself, I’m proud of that moment. We know our forwards have amazing talent, and we know we’re going to score goals. So, if we can get clean sheets, we’re going to be a dangerous team.”
It was Atlanta United’s third clean sheet of the season but first for Quentin Westberg, the backup goalkeeper who’s now started five matches in place of starter Brad Guzan. During Wednesday’s match, Westberg made two huge saves in the second half against the Rapids, including a leaping block on a shot from Colorado’s Danny Leyva that was well on its way to the upper right corner.
Westberg joined Atlanta United this past offseason. The goalkeeper from Suresnes, France spent a significant stretch of his career in his home country before making the jump to MLS. Prior to joining Atlanta United, he spent the entirety of his MLS career with Toronto FC in the Eastern Conference, making all four starts in the MLS Cup Playoffs in 2019 as the Reds made it all the way to the MLS Cup.
The 36-year-old recorded 10 clean sheets with Toronto FC and his experience has helped the 5-Stripes during Guzan’s absence. When asked whether he feels proud of his first clean sheet for Atlanta United, Westberg credited the group.
“It’s not my clean sheet, it’s just a consequence,” Westberg said. “Obviously, I’m rarely going to be on the scoreboard, so on the other end, getting a clean sheet is just the conclusion of a great team effort.”
Westberg, winner of the Golden Spike of Excellence, was also involved in one of the club’s four goals on the night. The goalkeeper played the first ball in the buildup that led to the goal from Giorgos Giakoumakis in the 90th minute. Westberg played a ball to the right side to Lennon, who then had some room to send a long pass over the top to Giakoumakis. The striker brought down the ball with his chest and chipped a shot over Colorado goalkeeper William Yarbrough for his sixth goal of the season.
The ball moved up the field so quickly, it almost seemed like Westberg could have been credited with a secondary assist on the play. Either way, the goalkeeper was proud to contribute to a scoring moment.
“Participating in the buildup of a goal is also super satisfying because we talked about it not so long ago, two days ago, that the balance on the team is really important because we want to be an overwhelming team,” Westberg said. “You want to be a team that has possession, you want to be a team that takes good care of the ball. And I think on many occasions tonight we did.”
Heading into Wednesday’s match, Atlanta United’s backline faced somewhat of a question mark because two options at left fullback were unavailable. Caleb Wiley, the 18-year-old Homegrown who can play at left wing or left fullback, is away from the club on international duty. Andrew Gutman, who’s started nine matches for the 5-Stripes this season, was serving a one-game suspension for a red card he was shown in the loss to Charlotte FC.
In their absence, Ronald Hernández filled in and made his first MLS start of the season for Atlanta United. And the Venezuelan defender played very well, ending the night with five tackles, completing 89 percent of his passes and leading the team with 10 duels won. It was a strong performance that his head coach called “fantastic.”
“For myself, I’m very happy to contribute, to help the team,” Hernández said. “But the most important tonight is three points and gain the confidence back.”
After 13 matches played, Atlanta United leads the league in goals scored (25) and has scored at least one goal in every match. But while Atlanta United strives to be a team that plays on the front foot and scores a lot of goals, evidence of a clean sheet like the one on Wednesday shows a team playing at its best from the back to front.
“There was a moment where it was rocking, it wasn’t really going our way and we were able to fight through it and ultimately score three more goals,” Westberg said. “So, this is the definition of raising the standard is going through hard times together but then ultimately coming out with a positive result and a positive outing.”