2021 MLS Matches: 15 matches, 6 starts for 626 minutes
2021 USL-Championship Matches: 5 matches, 4 starts for 376 minutes
What went right in 2021
The most important factor for George Campbell in 2021 was that he got on the field. Many were righteously frustrated in the 2020 COVID-marred season as the club consistently ignored Campbell’s presence on the squad as the squad struggled with defensive depth. 2021 proved to be a welcomed change for Campbell as roster rules eased allowing greater movement between MLS and USL squads, and injuries and international duty once again tested Atlanta United’s defensive depth.
Many questioned Campbell’s preparedness and ability as the reason he went largely unused under Frank De Boer, Stephen Glass, and Gabriel Heinze but those concerned proved to be unfounded as a rusty yet capable Campbell took advantage of every minute he got with the first and second teams. Most interestingly of all is how similar Campbell’s ascent is to that of the player sitting directly ahead of him on the depth chart. Miles Robinson also had a slow track to the club’s starting line-up, playing extensively for the 2s and Charleston Battery in the USL-Championship and largely serving as a substitute before becoming the dominant force he is today. If we compare Campbell’s 2021 to Robinson’s 2018, we see relatively similar numbers but with Campbell getting fewer starts due to being an unused substitute with the MLS squad.
With the 2s, Campbell showed his strong athletic ability with stout one-on-one defending against big and aggressive forwards and shifty little wingers. He showed his comfort with the ball at his feet and his ability to move forward in possession to find the right pass. Campbell also showed his ability to get on the end of a goal, scoring a ridiculous header to open a 3-0 route against Orlando City.
What to improve in 2022
Consistency will be a key factor for Campbell in 2022. While that is a challenging thing to ask of a player who is not getting regular starts, he should be receiving more opportunities this year as the club’s de facto #3 centerback. With the departure of Anton Walkes, the club signaled their trust in Campbell to step in a play at a high level whether that is in place of top tier starters Alan Franco and Miles Robinson, or alongside them in the occasional three-man backline. Being able to consistently offer a calm and mature level of play on the field in his age 20/21 season will set him up well as the assumed heir-apparent for Robison.
He is still a young player with plenty of room to grow on the mental side of the ball so it will be intriguing to see how he approaches this new season training opposite a healthy Josef Martinez, Ezequiel Barco, and Luiz Araujo in practice scrimmages. Proactively positioning himself to anticipate movement by opposing attackers when the ball changes possession so that he is not purely relying on his athleticism to recover will elevate his game to the next level. The same could be said for his passing ability that continues to grow with his vision of the field enhanced by better decisions on the ball. Pairing his ability on the ball with Alan Franco in 2023 could prove to be a brilliant combination for Atlanta United’s ability to unlock the low-block defenses that we often face.
2022 Season Outlook
2022 looks to be a big year for George Campbell in part due to it being a big year for Miles Robinson. Their paths are intrinsically tied together as Robinson’s road to the World Cup may prove to be his road to Europe and that same road positions Campbell for more matches as Atlanta United’s starting centerback. Realistically, accounting for injuries and squad rotation, Campbell could expect 20 matches with possibly 12 starts this season at the MLS level and potentially a handful more starts at the USL level to keep him fresh.