“I don’t know if he’s already inside the locker room or not. He might still be crowd surfing out there, but he deserves it. There’s a lot more to come from him, and it’s just the beginning.”
Those were Julian Gressel’s words, but they summed up the feelings in the Atlanta United locker room following George Bello’s Golden Spike-winning performance on Saturday against New England. In just his second start for the first team, the 16-year-old Homegrown scored the opening goal of the night, marking his first for the club and becoming the sixth-youngest player to score in MLS history.
When captain Michael Parkhurst was asked what he was doing at that age, his answer was swift: “I wasn’t scoring goals in front of 45,000 people, that’s for sure.”
“It’s impressive, not just the goal,” he added. “The goal is very well taken, but I thought he had a very strong performance, offensively and defensively. Really did his job well, understood what was needed of him in different aspects. (He) defended really well – 1-on-1, especially – in the second half. Overall, a very good performance from George (Bello) tonight.”
While his teammates praised his efforts on the night, Bello remained a little in shock after his milestone moment.
“I mean, it’s amazing,” responded Bello immediately following the final whistle. “I don’t think it’s really settled down in me yet, but in a few hours, I’m probably going to be going crazy. It’s just a great feeling, and to be able to help the team to progress in the playoffs and positioning is even greater.”
The teenager from Douglasville, Georgia looked well beyond his years at the left back position, confident on the ball, sturdy in defense and quick to stretch the field and push forward while the 5-Stripes were in possession.
After the stellar performance, media members were curious about what notes head coach Tata Martino had given him. “Just to attack,” Bello said, “but also, if I’m attacking, I need to do 100 percent attacking, but 110 percent defending. So, it was more of the defensive side I wanted to look at today.”
“I do watch a lot (of soccer). Every game that I can watch, I try to watch it, and I usually watch Marcelo (Vieira), Marcos Alonso, for Chelsea FC, David Alaba, those positions because they’re all attacking players, and I also look what they do to track back and defend, so I try to make my game after them.”
It was on both sides of the ball that Bello impressed in his first start just two weeks prior against Real Salt Lake. And though he was clearly more than prepared for the game on Saturday, the Homegrown was keen on improving his play from that match.
“Just to move forward from what I did last game, because I knew I had to step up my game from last game,” he added. “I had to play harder and play faster, so that’s all I tried to do… I was more relaxed and more comfortable. Nerves are still there, of course, because you’re still trying to help your team and all that, but I was really more relaxed and more composed this time.”
One thing is for certain: George Bello is a promising young star and the Atlanta faithful will be eager to see one of their own grow into a consistent role with the First Team. But he is still a raw talent with much to learn and much experience to be had, and his head coach emphasized the importance of patience in regards to young players like him.
“I think we all have to remain calm with George Bello,” said Martino. “Although he has all the ability to play, and he did well in his second start, he’s only 16 years old. We know that now we have two finals left to play and then the playoffs after that, so we just have to know that he is capable of playing if he is called upon to play.”
Before Bello and company embark on their playoff run, they still have work to be done in the regular season with all eyes set on the Supporters’ Shield. Two matches remain to lock it up, with the first coming on October 21st at Mercedes-Benz Stadium against the Chicago Fire. It’s going to be a wild one with over 70K in the building, so make sure you’ve reserved your seat here.