What George Bello’s Departure Means

Atlanta United's Homegrown George Bello heads to the Bundesliga. Photo by Harry Wyman | The Signal

After four years playing in Atlanta, George Bello became the latest MLS player to make a move to one of Europe’s top five leagues when he signed for Arminia Bielefeld of Germany’s Bundesliga on Jan. 31st for a reported $1.98 million.

The American left-back came through the Atlanta United academy, making his debut for the first team in 2018 at age 16. He appeared three times in the season. 

Atlanta lifted the MLS trophy and picked up a goal in the process, making him the 6th youngest scorer in MLS history at the time. 

By 2020, Bello was a vital part of the first-team setup making 20 and 29 league appearances in 2020 and 2021. 

“Thank you, Atlanta and the best fans in the MLS, for your support, your love, and for cheering me on every step of this journey,” Bello said in an open letter to Atlanta United fans on his social media pages. “I hope I’ll continue to make the city of Atlanta and Atlanta United proud. Atlanta has my heart forever.”

George Bello joined Arminia Bielefeld, a club fighting to remain in Germany’s top division for a third straight season after 11 years of moving between German soccer’s 2nd and 3rd tiers. 

He is the 63rd American to play in the Bundesliga and the only active American player in Europe’s top five leagues to come from Atlanta.

Atlanta United had to replace the team’s first-choice left-back departure. 

Atlanta United knew within the club that Bello would be leaving. They were left with either spending money to recruit or to promote from within the squad. Gonzalo Pineda seems ready to opt for the latter. 

Andrew Gutman, who has spent most of his career on various loan spells, looks set to play a season for his parent club for the first time since the 17/18 season at the Indiana Hoosiers. 

Gutman spent two years with Scottish powerhouse Glasgow Celtic but spent his whole time on loan back to the MLS until he joined Atlanta United on a free transfer in 2021. 

Gutman spent the 2021 season on loan at the New York Red Bulls, and Pineda seems confident with his MLS experience to replace the departing Bello.

Gutman made 22 appearances for the Red Bulls last season, who managed to secure a playoff spot only to fall short in the first round, just like Atlanta United. 

The 25-year old defender impressed when he played, with defensive stats nearly identical to those Bello put up for Atlanta United. Gutman tackled 52.9 percent of the dribbles he faced, compared to Bello’s 52.2. (all stats via fbref.com). Similarly, Gutman completed 39.3 percent of his pressures compared to Bello’s 33.1. 

“He played against us a few times with Cincinnati,” Vice President Carlos Bocanegra said to the press in 2021 when Atlanta United signed him. 

“His size and ability to get up and down the line, his pace and willingness to get into the attack as well as get back and defend, he’s very much the profile of the outside back we like.”

His attacking ability from full-back is another reason he looks to be a suitable replacement for George Bello. 

Last season Gutman managed to get two goals and an assist from the left-back position, comparable to Bello’s one goal and three assists. Gutman also managed to get 2.01 shot-creating actions per 90 last season, compared to Bello’s 1.52. 

This means Gutman excels at dribbling, passing and running to create space for himself or other teammates to create shots. This trait explicitly benefits Josef Martinez, who excels when people make spaces for him to work with. 

With less than three weeks until the start of the 2022 MLS season, preparation is well underway. Atlanta United has two more pre-season friendlies against Chivas and Birmingham Legion FC before the season opener to Sporting Kansas City. 

With Andrew Gutman impressing in the friendlies, he looks set to be Atlanta’s first-choice left-back for the season, and his experience could prove valuable for Atlanta. 

While Bello may have left to further his career, he will forever value his time in Atlanta. 

As the only player from the city who’s actively playing in one of Europe’s top five leagues, he’s shown he has what it takes to make the place he once called home proud.