The article below was originally published on Sept. 24. Bello scored his first MLS goal on Saturday, becoming the sixth-youngest player in MLS history to score.
Making his first MLS start and his first appearance in front of the home fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Bello admitted he was nervous and jittery heading into Saturday night’s eventual 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake.
“Once I took the first touch of the ball, I was like 'Alright, this is what I do,’” Bello told reporters after the match.
Bello’s fellow wingback Julian Gressel laughed with reporters as he described Bello’s locker-room presence before the match, constantly asking his German counterpart questions and generally looking anxious.
“[Julian] plays right wingback and I play wingback as well, so I was just asking for tips and tricks that he could give me,” Bello said. “[He told me] to just have fun. It's the best piece of advice to be honest, because if you're nervous, you won't play well.”
Bello became the eighth-youngest player to start an MLS match at just 16 years and 243 days, but you’d never know it judging by his demeanor or performance on the field. The Douglasville, Ga. native didn’t stand out — he simply looked like just another player on the team atop the Supporters’ Shield standings with four games remaining.
“George honestly seems like he's been ready for a while,” said veteran midfielder Jeff Larentowicz, who’s seen his share of young players come through the ranks in his long MLS career. “I think he has all the tools. If you threw the age out the window and just looked at everything else, you'd say 'yeah, he's absolutely ready.'”
Bello said manager Tata Martino didn’t want him thinking too much during the game, explaining that he was given no specific responsibilities — only to enjoy the game. Whether it was Martino’s sage handling of the youngster or Bello’s raw ability (or a bit of both), it clearly worked, as Atlanta kept a clean sheet in a complete performance on the night.
“The good thing is that we have young players, but we're able to add them to a very solid team,” Martino explained through a translator postgame. “George came on and did a really good job. You have to remember, he's only 16 years old, but he has to be brave to come in and step into that spot.”
Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of just how young Bello is. He was born in 2002, just months before the US men’s national team reached the World Cup quarterfinals in South Korea. Now he’s looking to be a player that could one day feature for the US. Based off his full ATLUTD debut, that moment might come sooner than anyone would have imagined.