Atlanta United’s George Campbell focused on improvement

Atlanta United defender George Campbell #32 clearing the ball during the match against New England Revolution at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia on Saturday July 17, 2021. (Photo by Dakota Williams/Atlanta United)

Credit: Dakota Williams/Atlanta United

Credit: Dakota Williams/Atlanta United

Atlanta United defender George Campbell #32 clearing the ball during the match against New England Revolution at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia on Saturday July 17, 2021. (Photo by Dakota Williams/Atlanta United)

George Campbell has the tools to be a quality centerback for Atlanta United in MLS. He’s big. He’s fast. He can dribble, and his passing is much-improved.

Now, the 20-year-old just needs minutes to gain experience.

“When you have people like Alan (Franco) or Brad (Guzan) next to you, it’s always helpful, and getting more game time is always helpful,” he said Wednesday. “I think ... it’s just about building on what we’ve been learning and training, and then just making the most of the opportunity that I have, which is getting game time regardless of who’s here and who’s not.”

Campbell made 15 appearances, including six starts, last season. With Miles Robinson in camp for the U.S. men’s national team, Campbell started beside Franco in the team’s first two exhibition games this year and performed well. The team posted two shutouts against the semi-pro opponents, and Campbell scored a goal in the second game.

If the team continues to play three centerbacks, as it did last year, Campbell likely would be the third centerback and starting numerous games. But manager Gonzalo Pineda has used two centerbacks in the first two exhibition games and said it’s a formation that he wants to keep training. If it is used, Campbell likely would be the odd man out because Robinson is an MLS Best XI defender and Franco came on strong toward the end of the 2021 season.

Campbell seems to understand the situation and said he is focused on what’s in front of him. He said he feels no more or less nervous during this camp than he did last season when it wasn’t clear if he would play at all.

“I don’t think you should be too too nervous or too shaky going into preseason,” he said. “You should focus on know what you can control and that’s playing well. So I think I’m just I’m just focused on that. Trying to leave the nerves out. Just focus.”

Campbell sounded a lot like Robinson before his breakout 2019 season when discussing what he wants to improve. He said his first touch and his passing are things that he is working on because they will help the team build its attack. Pineda wants all of the players on the team to attack opponents with line-splitting passes when they are available. A clean first touch, quick trigger and accuracy are keys to making that happen.

Campbell has attempted a few of those passes in the first exhibition games. And he showed that he could hit them last season, completing 69.5% of passes longer than 30 yards.

“He is young, but I think he’s grown so much as a player and as a person,” teammate Mikey Ambrose said of Campbell. “When I first met him, and he joined the first team, he was still pretty young, still a little kid kind of, and very raw on the field, as well. But the last couple years, he’s really come into his own, and you can see he has something different as a centerback, that little ability to get out of those tight situations, the ability to create like, a little play, starting from the back. Just that little, little difference that he has, I think is very valuable.

“And if he can keep growing from that and maybe know when to use it a little bit better. I think he can go very far as well.”

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Atlanta United’s 2022 MLS schedule

Feb. 27 vs. Sporting KC, 3 p.m., FS1

March 5 at Colorado, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

March 13 vs. Charlotte, 4:30 p.m., FS1

March 19 vs. Montreal, 4 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

April 2 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

April 9 at Charlotte, 3 p.m., ESPN

April 16 vs. Cincinnati, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

April 24 at Miami, 1 p.m., ESPN

April 30 at Montreal, 4 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

May 7 vs. Chicago, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

May 15 vs. New England, 2 p.m., ESPN

May 21 at Nashville, 7:30 p.m. FOX

May 28 vs. Columbus Crew, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

June 19 vs Miami, 4 p.m., ESPN2

June 25 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

June 30 at New York Red Bulls, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 3 at NYCFC, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 9 vs. Austin, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 13 vs. Real Salt Lake, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 17 vs. Orlando, 3 p.m., ABC

July 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 9:30 p.m., FS1

July 30 at Chicago, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

August 6 vs. Seattle, 3 p.m., ABC

August 13 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

August 17 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

August 21 at Columbus, 6 p.m., FS1

August 28 vs. D.C. United, 4 p.m., UNIV

August 31 at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 4 at Portland, 5:30 p.m., FOX

Sept. 10 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 14 at Orlando, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept 17 vs. Philadelphia, 3:30 p.m., UniMas

Oct. 1 at New England, 1 p.m., UniMas