Atlanta United’s 2020 season may not have gone the way we wanted, but the foundation is still there for a successful 2021. 18-year-old George Bello is a crucial part of Atlanta’s new era and enters it off the back of his best year yet in the Five Stripes.
Games played: 20 (19 starts)
What went right this season?
After dealing with an injury plagued 2019 season in which Bello made a grand total of 0 appearances in MLS, the young defender needed something of a breakout campaign this time around to continue his development and make up the lost time. And boy, did we get it. Though the overall product on the pitch from the team in red and black was usually painful on the eyes, Bello’s play up and down the left flank was anything but. He showed great skill on the ball and his offensive play gave life to an often drowsy Atlanta attack. Bello ended the season with the second most successful dribbles, fifth most fouls drawn, and third highest touches in the final third. A left-back, apparently.
No need to worry about whether he’s in a suitable position, though, because Bello put in quite a bit of work on the other side of the ball too. He lead the team in regaining possession and tackles won. Bello also was sixth on Atlanta in both interceptions and shots blocked. It was a busy year for the 18-year-old, to say the least.
What does he need to improve on?
Though Bello clearly already has the skills to flourish in MLS, there’s room for improvement in his game as well, especially if a move to Europe is on the cards. Bello was exposed a number of times defensively this past season and when he was on the pitch the Five Stripes were slightly more susceptible to conceding than when he wasn’t. If he can improve his defensive decision making and positioning, then those issues will dwindle and Bello can focus on contributing in the final third and converting more of his crosses into real oppurtinues. Despite tallying 34 crosses (2nd most), he had just 0.6 expected assists and 15 shots created (9th most).
What role will he play in 2021?
If Bello can polish the edges of his game, a big move to Europe, or at least MLS stardom is surely on the horizon. His market value spiked to $2.75 million in 2020 according to Transfermarkt but Atlanta can expect to receive more if/when he’s sold. Bryan Reynolds, for example, is rumored to be making a $10 million jump to Europe in January and Bello will be at a similar age and experience level in one year’s time. The 18-year-old will hopefully remain in Atlanta as full-time starter for one more season. Enjoy him now, though, because Bello’s definitely going places sooner rather than later.
Overall player grade: A