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Atlanta United defeats Birmingham; Bello injured

Scenes from the Atlanta United preseason match against the Birmingham Legion at BBVA Field  in Birmingham , Alabama, on Saturday February 8, 2020. (Photo by Jacob Gonzalez/Atlanta United)
Scenes from the Atlanta United preseason match against the Birmingham Legion at BBVA Field in Birmingham , Alabama, on Saturday February 8, 2020. (Photo by Jacob Gonzalez/Atlanta United)

Goals from Ezequiel Barco, Adam Jahn and Matheus Rossetto, who was making his debut, were enough to lift Atlanta United to a 3-2 win against Birmingham Legion in a friendly Saturday at BBVA Field.

The result and performance were secondary to an injury sustained by George Bello near the 70th minute. Bello, who came on as a second-half sub, landed hard while trying to defend a corner kick. The 18-year-old stayed down for several minutes while trainers for both teams examined him. He was put onto a stretcher, with his head and neck in a brace, and rolled off the field before taken to a nearby hospital. Manager Frank de Boer said that Bello sustained a blow to the back of the head.

Bello is returning to Atlanta after being evaluated and released at the hospital.

Barco’s goal was his second in the team’s fourth exhibition game. Jahn’s was his first. Rossetto’s winning goal was a beautiful piece of individual skill. He found a channel between defenders, took the pass from Mo Adams and patiently watched defenders slip and slide before he saw a gap and hit a shot into the lower left corner in injury time.

Atlanta United improved to 3-0-1 in the preseason. Atlanta United will continue its preseason with a trip to Mexico to play second-division side Leones Negros on Tuesday in Guadalajara. Atlanta United will open its season Feb. 18 at Motagua in Honduras in the Champions League. The majority of the team that started Saturday will play 90 minutes against Leones Negros.

“The first half, I think we controlled the game,” de Boer said. “I was pleased with what I saw.”

De Boer made a few changes Saturday to the starting 11, compared with the lineups used in previous three games.

Alec Kann came in for Brad Guzan in goal. The centerbacks were Franco Escobar, Miles Robinson and rookie George Campbell. Brooks Lennon started at right wingback, with Anton Walkes making his debut at left wingback. Jeff Larentowicz replaced Eric Remedi at defensive midfielder, with Emerson Hyndman starting with him. Barco, Pity Martinez and Josef Martinez composed the attacking trident.

One of Atlanta United’s better chances through the first 35 minutes came in the 35th when Hyndman forced a turnover. Pity Martinez played the ball across to Josef Martinez, who took a touch before hitting a hard right-footed shot that was expertly saved by Matt VanOekel.

Pity Martinez, Josef Martinez and Barco put together a few good passing combinations in the first half, but the Designated Players couldn’t produce a result.

Birmingham had two calls in the first half for penalty kicks waved away by the referee, who each time motioned that the player dove.

Atlanta United broke through in the 44th minute when Lennon played a tough diagonal pass into the middle to Pity Martinez, who dribbled past three defenders as he moved down the field and played a pass to Barco in space on the left. Barco cut back to the right and placed his shot into the lower right corner.

De Boer said the team needs to realize when to pick up the pace and play faster, particularly when the opponent is trying to slow the game.

De Boer makes 10 changes to start the second half, with Adams, Laurence Wyke, Adam Jahn, draft-pick Patrick Nielsen (in his first action), Bello, Rossetto, Brendan Moore, Jake Mulraney, Tyler Wolff and Eric Remedi. Campbell stayed on.

Things didn’t start well for the new group.

Campbell missed a header in the penalty box. Wyke came over to try to tackle the player who won the ball, but committed a foul and a penalty kick was called. Neco Brett converted the penalty to tie the score at 1-1 in the 48th minute.

But things improved as Atlanta United began to dominate possession, with the reward coming when Tyler Wolff, an Academy player, earned a penalty kick in the 67th minute. Jahn put the penalty into the lower right corner to give Atlanta United a lead.

Birmingham tied the score in the 81st minute when Rudolf Mensah, who appeared to be yards offside, ran onto a through pass and beat Moore one-on-one.

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