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Who is Paul Christensen? Likely starting GK for Atlanta United vs. Orlando

May 9, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United goalkeeper Paul Christensen (33) defends the goal during the second half against the Sporting Kansas City at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
May 9, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United goalkeeper Paul Christensen (33) defends the goal during the second half against the Sporting Kansas City at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta United F.C. announced Saturday night it signed goalkeeper Paul Christensen to another short-term, four-day contract.

The move points to the 22-year-old potentially starting in goal for the Five Stripes against Orlando City SC on Sunday, which would be the first start of his young career in Major League Soccer.

Atlanta signed Christensen to his first short-term contract about a week ago, when backup goalkeepers Alec Kann and Mitch Hildebrandt were ruled out for the Chicago Fire game due to injuries. Christensen signed a second deal before Atlanta’s loss against Sporting Kansas City, where he made his MLS debut after Brad Guzan was given a red card in the 34th minute.

The short-term contracts are possible through the MLS “extreme hardship” rule, which allows MLS teams to sign players from their United Soccer League affiliates. An MLS club may sign a player to a maximum of four short-term agreements each season, a maximum of 16 days.

This is Christensen’s third short-term deal with the Five Stripes.

Let’s get to know the likely starting goalkeeper for Atlanta United on Sunday:

The basics.

He is a native of Woodinville, Wash. He is 6-foot-1 and played four years with the Seattle Sounders academy before playing college soccer at the University of Portland, where he started 72 games and tallied 20 clean sheets.

How did Atlanta United get this guy?

Christensen was the 70th overall pick in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft and was signed to a deal with the Five Stripes USL affiliate, ATL UTD 2.

Did he play in USL this season? How did he do?

Indeed. Christensen started two games for ATL UTD 2. He had a 0-1-1 record, allowed three goals and tallied three saves. He was 75 percent successful on all passes, and 40 percent successful on long passes.

So, what did Guzan do to get that red card?

The 33-year-old USMNT keeper sprinted out of the penalty box and slid feet first into SKC’s Khiry Shelton. The official called it a “denial of obvious goal scoring opportunity.” Guzan admitted his foul play after the game, telling, “Um, yeah, it was a red card.”

Watch: Brad Guzan’s red card in Atlanta vs. Sporting KC

How did Christensen do vs. SKC?

Well, he allowed two goals. But, considering he faced the top team in the Western Conference with a man down in a game he wasn’t expecting to play in — he was decent. He also made a big save shortly after entering the match, sacrificed his chest to block a shot from Johnny Russell.

What did Christensen say after the game?

“I think it’s just going into the game preparing like I’m going to play, kind-of watching Brad [Guzan], what he does. [Goalkeeper coach] Aron [Hyde] said right before I went in that it’s just like training. I’ve seen some of the best guys in the league every day, so it’s nothing different. So, just being confident in my game and confident in what I can bring to the table. [I’ll] try my best to help the team win the best I can.”

“I think it’s just the speed and just the knowledge of the players. Having [Michael Parkhurst] and [Leandro González Pirez] in front of me, they made it really easy. Those guys were working very hard to block shots and doing everything that they could to help me out. [They were] just giving me a lot of confidence in everything. Guys were just telling me to calm down, play my game, do what I can and try to help the team.”

What did teammates, coach say about his performance?

Michael Parkhurst: “It’s a tough spot for him, you know, just being called up for a few games, not thinking he’s going to play. To step in, down a man, I thought he did really well. He communicated well. He made that big save for us early in the second half. So, kudos to him for being ready and stepping up in a tough spot.”

Jeff Larentowicz: “I thought he did really well. You can see in the second half he was called upon to make a few saves. As soon as he gets on the field, I think his distribution is good. I can hear him communicating as well. He didn’t shy away from the occasion.”

Gerardo Martino: “It was very difficult, but he played very well. Furthermore, he had a great save on a one-on-one chance when the game was still tied 0-0.”

Why would Atlanta start Christensen over one of its other keepers?

Guzan has to sit a match due to the red card. Alec Kann and Mitch Hildebrandt are both nursing knee injuries. The other option would have been Nicolas Caraux – a Frenchman who has started five games for ATL UTD 2 this season, notching a save rate of 56 percent. However, calling Caraux up to the first team is currently impossible, because he would use up an international roster spot that the Five Stripes don’t have.

Hildebrandt was active in training this past week, but both he and Kann are officially listed as questionable.

Christensen will absolutely be on the 18-man roster for Sunday, but whether he starts or not depends on the fitness and health of Kann and Hildebrandt.




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