A little more than a year ago, George Bello could not believe his bad luck. Injuries were beginning to pile up, and he started to question why it was he that had to deal with the misfortune.
Fast forward to today and Bello is in a much different place mentally and professionally. Not only is he coming off a breakout season that has raised his confidence, but he is poised to take further strides in his development under a head coach that knows how to play his position very well.
Atlanta United is on the brink of starting a busy 2021 campaign, and Bello stands to be a key participant in it. The teenage left back was one of very few bright spots for the team during a tumultuous last season, transforming from a mere spectator into a regular starter, and he is eagerly looking to build on that after getting a taste of what it is like to see the field consistently.
“It was a massive confidence boost because I had injuries in the past,” Bello told SBI. “Just being able to have that string of games gave me a lot of confidence and gave me a lot of game experience, and you cannot get anything better than game experience. That is where you really learn.
“You are going to make mistakes, obviously, but that is where you learn and that builds your confidence and builds you as a player. You can learn everything in training, but during the game is where I feel you can apply those things and learn in each situation.”
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) September 13, 2020
If Bello’s repeated use of the word “learn” sticks out there, it is because he understands full well that for as much progress as he made last year there is still so much more he has to do and show if he wants to continue to grow as a player. Chief among that is better understanding the left back position and all that it entails.
Good thing for the 19-year-old then that he has a new head coach in former Argentina national team player Gabriel Heinze that has played that spot at a high level for both club and country.
“He is a young player that still has a lot to learn in terms of concepts of the game,” said Heinze in Spanish. “But he is a youngster who is a professional and who is coachable, so we can gave him many more tools.”
Bello, an Atlanta United homegrown player who made 19 starts in 20 appearances last year, agrees that he has a lot of room to grow.
“I would say my defensive side, whether it be positioning or being in the right spot,” said Bello about where he wants to make improvements this season. “I know I have some pace and I am pretty fast, but if I am there before I will not have to make the extra energy to get there. Being in the right position at the right time, keep working on my 1-v-1 defending because that is a critical part of the game and where teams can get goals and can cost goals, and then also in my final product.
“I feel like I get in the right spots, but just finishing the product whether it be with a cross or the final pass or the final shot.”
Should Bello continue to take strides in his game in 2021 and add to the one goal and one assist he recorded last season, more opportunities like the one he had earlier this year could present itself. Bello made his full U.S. Men’s National Team debut in a 7-0 rout of Trinidad and Tobago back in January, coming off the bench in the friendly to play the final 26 minutes.
He was hoping to see more of the field on the international stage later this year at the Olympics, but his compatriots at the under-23 level recently failed to qualify for that competition. Even so, Bello remains hungry to represent his country in other moments down the road.
“Making my debut, that was crazy. A dream come true,” said Bello. “Obviously you dream of that as a kid to play for the first men’s national team. It was really great because I talked to my family about it and saying it is crazy how two years ago I had surgery on my abductors, I had all these setbacks and now I debuted for the national team.
“It is crazy to think about. I am just hoping to have many more and just to keep improving myself as a player.”
For Bello, continuing to develop is where the main focus lies. He knows he cannot rest on his laurels if he wants to maximize his potential. Especially not ahead of a campaign that should provide ample opportunity to showcase himself given that Atlanta United will play in several competitions like the MLS season and Concacaf Champions League.
Good initial strides have been made, but for him this is only the beginning.
“Just keep improving myself, trying to get minutes, trying to keep learning the game because I know I still have a lot to learn,” said Bello of his goals for the year. “Just never being complacent and never getting too high. Just keeping my head down and keep working and seeing where that takes me.”