5 Five Stripes Thoughts: Bello shines as Atlanta United closes in on Shield

Mike Conti
September 24, 2018 - 11:03 am
Atlanta United defender George Bello

© Adam Hagy -USA TODAY Sports

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At age 16, some kids are just trying to find a date to prom or a back-door entry into an R-rated movie.  Others are on an expressway to success, in the formative years of what could be a long and prosperous career.

George Bello certainly fits into the latter category.  The 16 year old from Douglasville got his first career MLS start Saturday in Atlanta United’s 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake, and thrived in a way that few could have expected.  His 73 minutes of work was mostly mistake-free.  And now Tata Martino is challenged with finding new ways to integrate Bello into a suddenly deep back-line for the Five Stripes.

Here are my five thoughts on Saturday’s win, and the week ahead for Atlanta United:

1. George Bello looked like a veteran.  Bello was stunned to learn during our post-match interview that he led his team in tackles Saturday night.  Aside from one or two mistakes that still did not produce scoring opportunities for Real Salt Lake, I thought Bello looked confident and imaginative, and he even had a scoring opportunity and a near assist.  I think Tata Martino deserves a lot of credit in finding ideal situations to introduce his youngest players into MLS competition.  Just as was the case with 18 year old Andrew Carleton, Martino waited for a home match to give Bello his first career MLS start.  It may not be significant, but I have to think the home atmosphere gave Bello a degree of comfort.

2. Options suddenly abound at left back for Atlanta United.  Bello’s introduction gave Martino an opportunity to rest Chris McCann after a long night Wednesday in San Jose.  I don’t believe McCann will lose his job to Bello, but Greg Garza’s return may cloud the picture.  And it sounds like Garza may be getting close to seeing the pitch again.  This is all good news for a back-line that has been stretched tremendously thin by injuries this year.  Michael Parkhurst was also purchased a match to rest on Saturday.  Should Atlanta United clinch the Supporters’ Shield in two weeks, I wouldn’t be shocked if Jeff Larentowicz and possibly even Eric Remedi would get a small break.

3. Miguel Almiron has two game-winning crosses in as many matches.  Just as was the case Wednesday in San Jose, Almiron was able to serve a pinpoint cross from the left of the goal to the back post for a goal Saturday night.  But this time, he dribbled all the way to the end line before picking out Julien Gressel, who had all the time in the world to fire a rocket past Nick Rimando.  Almiron’s growing confidence in his right foot should be very concerning to the rest of MLS as the postseason approaches.  Almiron also now has a total of 26 goals and assists on the season, remarkable for someone who endured a scoring slump for a long stretch of the summer.

4. Two major club goals are now within reach.  And a win at New York Red Bulls Sunday basically gets them there, as a victory secures qualification in the CONCACAF Champions League and puts Atlanta United within one win of clinching the Supporters’ Shield.  Even a draw puts the Five Stripes in outstanding position to clinch.  The ability to compete against the best clubs in North America is a possibility that Atlanta United management takes very seriously, and now they are on the cusp of earning that opportunity.  A loss at Red Bulls, however, could derail all of this.  It would likely take the Shield and CCL qualification down to the final week of the season.

5. Atlanta United already got a big break for Sunday’s meeting with Red Bulls.  With his booking for dissent late in their 2-0 win over Toronto on Saturday, Bradley Wright Phillips has reached the threshold for a yellow card accumulation suspension.  So Atlanta United will not be seeing one of the most dynamic goal scorers in the league, and someone who scored against them twice in their 3-1 pasting of the Five Stripes on May 20.  Red Bulls are a different club since that match, most notably in the departure of Manager Jessie Marsch, who was replaced by assistant Chris Armas after Marsch left for Europe.  This is still the Game of the Year in MLS, but Atlanta United has a much larger cushion for error now that Wright-Phillips is unavailable.​

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