George Bello, fresh off retrieving all of the balls used during Tuesday’s Atlanta United practice, went through the gauntlet of meeting the media at the team’s practice facility on Marietta.
He smiled. He said hello. He looked each person in the eye. He was coached well, which may be a good sign for the team because Bello, just 16, could be needed in the race for the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup.
Bello made his first 18 with the MLS team in its recent game against Toronto at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Though the left-footed fullback didn’t play, Bello said he will be good to go should manager Gerardo Martino need him in Sunday’s home game against Columbus, or any of the season’s remaining nine regular-season games.
“I’m ready whenever my opportunity comes,” Bello said.
Martino has been a fan of Bello’s. He teased Bello as being a possible starter in a U.S. Open Cup game earlier this season. Bello didn’t start. He didn’t even play. But the fact Martino, who doesn’t like to give away too much information, made the unusual point of mentioning Bello should be considered a good sign.
Though that opportunity didn’t work out, Bello began training with the senior team a few weeks ago after injuries sidelined Greg Garza (shoulder) and Mikey Ambrose (knee).
After two weeks of practices, Bello’s teammates are impressed.
“He’s a good young player,” captain Michael Parkhurst said. “I’m excited to see him on the field some day. He’s got a bright future. He’s a guy that doesn’t shy away from a tackle. Fast, athletic and can get up and down the wing. I think he’s got all the attribute you’d want in an outside back.”
A resident of Douglasville, Bello, with Lagos Kunga and Patrick Okonkwo, was introduced during halftime of a game against NYCFC on May 28 at Bobby Dodd Stadium as one of the team’s next Homegrown signings.
Atlanta United completed the signings in Jan. 2018. The reason was simple: Despite typically playing up in older age groups, Bello starred for various teams from Douglas County to Alpharetta around metro Atlanta. Because of his speed, tenacity and passing ability, he is considered one of the brightest prospects in the U.S. national team youth pools. He has represented the U.S. at various age groups, typically performing well.
“He’s a good player, a young player, a hungry player,” Atlanta United’s Chris McCann said. “He’s a good athlete, good on the ball, quiet level headed. He’s a humble kid. He will get his opportunities sooner or later.”
Bello has four appearances with Atlanta United 2 this season, the most recent coming in last week’s 1-0 loss at Charleston. That was his first appearance with the USL side since sustaining an injury in late April.
“It was great, being able to get the first 45 in,” he said. “No issues. I’m happy.”
Atlanta United has one healthy left-sided fullback in McCann on its roster, and another, Jose Hernandez, who has yet to make an 18.
McCann said if he suffers an injury, Bello may be the next man up. It doesn’t matter if Martino plays him as a traditional fullback in a 4-3-3 or as a wingback in a 5-3-2 because he said in either formation he will get to attack, which he prefers, and defend.
Parkhurst, 34, and McCann, 31, said they would advise Bello to take advantage of every opportunity that he is being given while training with the first team. Watch the older players and how they take care of their bodies. Watch how they practice. Try to match their intensity and precision in every drill.
Bello said he seeks advice from Garza, Ambrose and McCann about positioning and drills.
Bello says he is ready.
Parkhurst and McCann hope he is.
“It could come on Sunday, it could come in three weeks, it could come next season,” Parkhurst said. “He needs to be ready because if he can take advantage of that first opportunity it could be career-changing.”