Pineda, speaking after Friday night’s 3-0 home win over Orlando City SC, hailed the 20-year-old center back’s contributions in what amounted to the Five Stripes’ fifth victory in six games, leaving them right outside the Eastern Conference playoff spots.
Campbell opened the scoring in the 25th minute with a powerful header and deputized admirably in a three-man backline, with US men’s national team center back Miles Robinson absent after featuring in September’s World Cup qualifiers.
“I can see a center back with tremendous potential,” Pineda said. “He’s a center back that is physically gifted. His aggression when he presses between the lines was fantastic today, so I was pleased with his performance before he scored the goal. He did a couple tackles on the ground, and we gained a couple important balls in transition that helped us to continue the attacking. I am very happy with his performance.”
GOAL: George Campbell, Atlanta United FC - 25th minute
It was just Campbell’s third start since turning pro in July 2019, and he's played only 433 MLS-level minutes to date. But with Robinson missing, Campbell got his chance to shine alongside Anton Walkes and Alan Franco, winning half of his duels, completing 89% of his passes and providing four clearances.
Earning a consistent spot when Robinson returns won’t be easy, though they share a positive relationship and could feasibly partner together one day.
“Nothing but positive thoughts and encouragement – I thought that was the main thing,” Campbell said of pre-game talks with Robinson. “I think he was one of the people to say, ‘Get yourself a goal.’ It was positive thoughts.”
His goal carried some extra-special meaning, too, given some family happenings in the background.
“It was amazing, even better because it’s my mom’s birthday today,” Campbell said. “Told her that I’d score for her, so it’s really amazing. I did my best and it came right to me. It was meant to happen, I guess.”
Atlanta aren't getting carried away by Campbell’s moment, but Pineda clearly rates the youngster. And as the former Seattle Sounders assistant continues to shape the 2018 MLS Cup champions, perhaps a bigger role awaits – especially knowing Robinson figures to miss time with the USMNT.
They’re also ridding themselves of the man-marking tendencies that shaped the Gabriel Heinze era, a muscle-memory factor that’ll dissipate over time.
“I think part of what we learned last week was the defensive shape and how we have to get rid of the mid-marking and all of that,” Pineda said. “We need to march solely, but the moments we engage a player we have to do it aggressively. I know [Campbell] did that.
“I am very happy for his first goal. His teammates were very, very happy for his first goal, and that makes me even more happy because he’s a team guy, and the players love him.”