Atlanta United’s Bello: ‘I feel like we can do something special’

Sept. 19, 2020 - Atlanta, Ga: Atlanta United defender George Bello (21) controls the ball against Miami midfielder Lewis Morgan (7) in the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Saturday, September 19, 2020 in Atlanta. Atlanta United lost to Miami 2-1. JASON GETZ FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Sept. 19, 2020 - Atlanta, Ga: Atlanta United defender George Bello (21) controls the ball against Miami midfielder Lewis Morgan (7) in the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Saturday, September 19, 2020 in Atlanta. Atlanta United lost to Miami 2-1. JASON GETZ FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

As well as George Bello played for Atlanta United last season, well, he said he is trying to be even better this season.

The 19-year-old fullback, held back by injuries in 2019 before starting 2020 with a concussion in a friendly in Birmingham, which is where the team will play Sunday, rebounded to play the second-most minutes on the club last season. He performed well enough to earn his first appearance with the U.S. men’s national team and was likely going to be a part of the U.S. Under-23 team that is attempting to qualify for the Summer Olympics. Travel restrictions related to COVID-19 prevented his inclusion.

“I’m nowhere near where I can be,” he said.

Bello’s growth in maturity and as a defender was noticeable last season.

Mentally, after the adductor issues he sustained in 2019, Bello said last year that he learned the importance of taking care of his body before and after every training session. As a result, he made 20 appearances last season despite the unfortunate concussion at Birmingham. He said he didn’t remember the play that led to his concussion until he later saw film of it. He said injuries are something that happens in sports.

On defense, there were times earlier in the season when he would get caught too far up field. As he played those precious minutes he gained a better understanding of when he needed to go and join the attack and when he needed to stay back because, as he said, he’s a defender first.

Now, he’s receiving a grad-school education in playing left back from new manager Gabriel Heinze, who was one of the world’s best at the position during a career that included stops at Manchester United and Real Madrid.

Bello said he loves how clear and direct Heinze is with regard to what he wants him to do. He said he loves that there are segments during practice sessions that are devoted entirely to defensive drills: one-on-ones, blocking crosses, heading away crosses, etc. Bello said that’s not something he’s had. And he said he understands enough Spanish and Heinze speaks enough English that he knows exactly what is expected.

“He coaches how he plays: Aggressive, all-in,” Bello said. “It’s my type of game. I like that fast pace. He has a good set up, he knows what he’s doing.”

On offense, Bello produced one goal and one assist last season, which doesn’t seem like much, but remember that Atlanta United scored only 23 goals in 23 games. This season, Bello said he wants to improve that final pass. Having Josef Martinez back, as well as Lisandro Lopez, Ezequiel Barco, Jurgen Damm and others should help turn some of those crosses into assists.

Bello laughed when asked when he’s going to score a right-footed goal similar to the one scored by Sergino Dest against Jamaica on Wednesday.

“I can try one,” he said.

Should Bello put together another season similar to last year’s, there is an assumption that clubs in Europe will come calling. Bello said there has been some interest from clubs overseas and that playing there would fulfill a dream, but there hasn’t been anything definite. As expected, he said he is happy at Atlanta United and focused on helping the club improve upon last season.

Playing in the ongoing Olympic qualifiers – the U.S. will play Honduras on Sunday – might have helped raise Bello’s profile. He said he respects the club’s decision not to make himself, Miles Robinson and Brooks Lennon available because doing so would have meant they wouldn’t be available for the club’s Champions League opener at Alajuelense in Costa Rica on April 6.

Bello hasn’t given up on playing for the U.S. in the Summer Games if the U.S. qualifies. Manager Jason Kreis indicated a few weeks ago that may not happen because of their absence from the qualifiers. Bello said he will respect whatever decision Kreis makes.

For now, Bello is focused on trying to fulfill his potential and help Atlanta United rebound from last year’s disaster.

“I feel like we can do something special,” he said. “I’m really excited for the season to start and see where it takes us.”

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