ATLANTA — Most teenagers playing soccer hope they can start for their high school team. They dream that they can one day score a goal.
And then there’s Atlanta United FC’s George Bello, whose strike in the 17th minute Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium made him the sixth-youngest player to score in Major League Soccer history. What was Atlanta captain Michael Parkhurst, 34, doing when he was a teenager?
“I wasn’t scoring goals in front of 45,000 people, that’s for sure,” Parkhurst said. “It’s impressive, not just the goal. The goal is very well taken, but I thought (Bello) had a very strong performance, offensively and defensively.”
Bello’s goal opened the scoring for Atlanta United, who went on to top the New England Revolution, 2-1, in front of an announced crowd of 45,122.
“It’s amazing. I don’t think I’ve settled down any yet,” Bello said. “Whatever came to me, I tried to make the best choice. The way we were playing, we really stretched them out. Me and (Julian Gressel) really had a lot of space to drive down the line.”
The 16-year-old from Douglasville, Georgia was making the second start of his MLS career, filling in at left back for Chris McCann, who was suspended due to yellow card accumulation.
Bello was the recipient of a long pass along the left sideline from Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez. The talented teenager took a touch, beat his defender in a sprint to the box and fired a left-footed shot towards the near post. It bounced off Revolution keeper Brad Knighton before settling against the net.
“On that play, all of (New England’s) players were looking in the other direction, so they weren’t really paying attention,” Gonzalez-Pirez said through a translator. “We had noticed earlier in the game that the wing on that side was kind of open and the outside back was more close, so we thought we could find George with some space there. Luckily, I was able to play a good ball and he was able to control it and finish well.”
Bello ran towards the goal line with his arms outstretched and hit the “Milly Rock,” a dance made popular by New York rapper 2 Milly, before being mobbed by his teammates in celebration.
The 5-foot-6 Bello was signed to an MLS Homegrown contract in June 2017. The Atlanta United academy product has also appeared in six USL games this year with ATL UTD 2. In the win, Bello also won a team-high four tackles.
Oct 6, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United defender George Bello (21) scores a goal against New England Revolution midfielder Brandon Bye (15) during the first half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports
The mood in the stadium was at an incredible high when Bello scored, but the jovial atmosphere disappeared in the 30th minute, when Miguel Almiron went down with a non-contact injury. When trainers came out to examine him, Almiron pointed to the rear portion of his left leg. He was substituted off for Ezequeil Barco, and the Paraguayan midfielder had tears in his eyes as he limped off the pitch.
“We all know Miguel is a really important player, but I just tried to go in and do what I could to help the team,” Barco said through a translator.
The club said at halftime that Almiron was being “evaluated for a left leg injury.” After the match, Atlanta coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino said Almiron is “probably going to have to miss the next two games.” Martino added that Almiron’s injury looks muscular in nature.
“If Miguel is out, if that’s the case, then the guys around him are going to have to step up,” Martino said through a translator. “And maybe they’re not as talented as he is, but they’re going to have to do it with a lot of hard work and a lot of sacrifice.”
Almiron, 24, has played in every game for Atlanta this season, tallying 12 goals and 14 assists. In his second season with the Five Stripes, Almiron has often been mentioned in transfer rumors linking him to top clubs in Europe.
Fans got out of their seats again in the 52nd minute, when Hector “Tito” Villalba danced around a defender and fed a ball to Julian Gressel. The versatile 24-year-old German finished the chance with his right foot, sending the ball past Knighton towards the far post. It was Gressel’s fourth goal of the year on Villalba’s ninth assist.
But New England (8-12-11) wouldn’t let Brad Guzan get a clean sheet. In the second minute of stoppage time, Juan Agudelo slipped through Atlanta’s defense and poked a ball past Guzan that was fed to him by Diego Fagundez. It was the third goal of the season for Agudelo and the ninth assist of the season for Fagundez. Both players were second half substitutes for the Revs, who played a physical match, committing 20 fouls and earning four yellow cards.
“They’ve been a team that has been fouling a lot all year. They’re very aggressive when they press,” Gressel said. “Today they kind of let us have it in the back, and then, once it got to the midfield, they got pretty aggressive, so we were definitely expecting that. Not really any surprises. We just had to play through it and kind of get their hand and kept going and just playing within the game.”
Atlanta United improved to 20-6-6 and leads the Supporter’s Shield race with 66 points. The New York Red Bulls (19-7-5) are second in that race with 62 points. They face the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday at 10:30 p.m.
- Atlanta striker Josef Martinez was on a stretch earlier this season where he scored in nine straight games. After a scoreless performance on Saturday, he now just has two goals in his last six games. The 25-year-old Venezuelan Designated Player has 30 goals this season, an MLS single season record.
- Franco Escobar subbed in for Villalba in the 67th The Argentine defender didn’t play in Atlanta’s last game, a 2-0 loss to the Red Bulls.
- The Revolution players who received yellow cards were Wilifried Zahibo, Zachary Herivaux, Guillermo Hauche and Luis Caicedo.
- Atlanta picked up its 20th win of the season, tying Toronto FC (2017) and the Seattle Sounders (2014) for the most regular season MLS wins in the post-shootout era.
— Mitchell Northam (@primetimeMitch) October 6, 2018
— Mitchell Northam (@primetimeMitch) October 6, 2018