Clement Diop has returned to a starting job with Montreal Impact, but as a different person

Clement Diop - side profile -- Montreal

Nearly three years after the end of a turbulent first full season in MLS, Clement Diop is again a first-choice goalkeeper in Major League Soccer, this time with the Montreal Impact.

However, as the 26-year-old French-born Senegal international prepares with his club to head to the MLS is Back Tournament, he is not the same human or athlete.

"I think I've changed a lot, as a person and as a footballer," Diop said Friday during a video conference call. "I think I'm much more professional than I was in the past when I was in L.A. I'm working way harder. I'm trying to be much more focused than I used to be."

Diop's potential was obvious during his earlier stint with the Galaxy. But at the time, so was his inconsistency, giving up more than 2 goals per game and posting only a .647 save percentage in 15 starts. His struggles then were only part of a volatile mix that saw first-year head coach Curt Onalfo dismissed shy of the 2017 season's midpoint.

Montreal acquired him in the 2017 Waiver Draft, and although he did not play a league match 2018, the Impact re-signed him to a one-year contract with a one-year option.

He got two league starts last season and was also in goal as the Impact ended Toronto FC's run as Canadian champions. And although he always wanted more, having to wait for another chance like the one he's received from new coach Thierry Henry in 2020 has helped him manage the extended layoff due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

"When I came in in preseason, I knew I had a chance to take the spot, and I went for it, I stayed focused, and now I'm going to stay focused to be to get more game time," he said. "I learned patience. I was not someone patient, and now I'm very patient. Because when you stay on the bench, you learn a lot ... . This is not a situation you want to live again."

Diop has four points and a clean sheet to his name so far in league play in 2020, and also helped Montreal to a Concacaf Champions League quarterfinal that was interrupted after Leg 1. In the meantime, the club even more time to learn from Henry, a legend from his playing days at teams such as Arsenal, Barcelona and the France national team, and for Diop a fellow native Parisian.

"He's a great coach. Everybody knows what they have to do. And we work hard," Diop said. "You can really learn from a legend like him. Everybody knows who he is, and everybody knows what he has done and what he has won."