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Imagine being 16 years old and representing your hometown team for the first time in front more than 70,000 screaming fans. That’s what happened to George Bello, who admitted he felt a few nerves before his first MLS start.


“[He was] just asking a lot of questions, especially with me,” his fellow wingback, Julian Gressel said after the match. “He found out yesterday, so I asked him if he slept last night. He said a little bit. But, like I’ve said, he didn’t seem like that at all on the field.”

George Bello puts in a performance beyond his years - https://atlanta-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/Bello_Reax2.jpg

“I was kind of jittery, kind of shaking during the day,” Bello admitted after the match. “Last night, I got some rest, and once I took the first touch of the ball, I was like, ‘Alright this is what I do, this is what I need to do.’ So I calmed down after that, and I just tried to play the best I could play.”


What may have been normal pre-match jitters disappeared once he crossed those lines and entered the pitch. Tasked with facing one of the more dynamic wingers in MLS in Jefferson Savarino, Bello held his own completely, stepping up to contribute to a huge clean sheet. A major reason: a calming presence both on the field and on the sideline as well.


“[Tata] just said enjoy it,” Bello said. “I don’t have any responsibilities, so just go out there and have fun. Don’t be nervous, just stay calm and enjoy it.”


“The good thing is that we have young players that we can add to a very solid team, so when we put those players on the field, there is a better chance of them performing well,” Martino said through a translator. “He has to be brave to come in and step into that spot. He’s very young but he played well and could have even scored a goal.”



Bello leaned on Gressel a lot to specifically ask about playing as a wing back in a Martino system. But the veterans surrounding him in defense, from Brad Guzan to Jeff Larentowicz, steadied him throughout the match. And they were generous with praise after the match.


“I think that he has all the tools,” Larentowicz told reporters. “I think if you threw the age out the window and you just looked at him as a player, you would say he’s absolutely ready. I think that it’s true, when he got on the field, he did really well for the team.”


“The [veterans] told me to be calm (and) gave me encouragement (and) never put me down if I made a mistake,” Bello said. “They would just tell me to keep going, keep going and when I would do good things, they would complement me, so they just made everything feel calm and not stressful.”

George Bello puts in a performance beyond his years - https://atlanta-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/Bello_Reax3.jpg

Bello put in the work, working the hard hours both on the training ground and in the video room to be ready for the match. And with his entire family –– and 70,000 fans –– cheering him on in the stands, he was more than ready for his first start.


“I think I did pretty good for a first MLS start. A few things I can tweak here and there, but it’s only the beginning here. I just need to learn from the mistakes and just keep going and improving myself.”


That’s one of the reasons he’s already blossoming into a special player: never satisfied, always looking for room to improve. But he allowed himself a moment to reflect on a day that could change his life forever.


“It means a lot,” said Bello, “because not everyone gets to make their MLS debut at the age of 16. So it is just really a blessing.”


Bello and the rest of the squad will look to build on their nine-point week with a crucial road match looming against the New York Red Bulls next weekend. For those who can’t make the trip, make sure to tune in to ESPN at 1 p.m. EST on Sunday for the huge Eastern Conference clash.