Atlanta United manager Rob Valentino believes left-back George Bello has returned from the Concacaf Gold Cup a much improved player.
At just 19 years old, Bello has made the Five Stripes' left-back spot his own and is now a regular at international level for the United States, while he's often linked with a move to Europe.
Bello was part of Gregg Berhalter's USMNT side that won this summer's Gold Cup and played 65 minutes during the 1-0 victory over Mexico in the final - Bello's Atlanta United teammate Miles Robinson scored the extra-time winner.
The teenager has put in two outstanding performances for Atlanta since returning to club duties, looking especially impressive during Saturday's 3-2 win away at Columbus, with Bello providing an assist for Ezequiel Barco with a brilliantly executed back-heel - one of three chances he created on the night.
And Valentino believes Bello has returned from international duty with extra 'energy and savviness', providing a 'breath of fresh air' for his squad.
“He was good again," Valentino told reporters. "I think he’s brought an energy and savviness from a tactical side back from the Gold Cup. That comes from being around good coaches, good players.
"He stepped up tonight, even the other day and I challenged him in front of the group. He maybe didn’t like that in the beginning, but he has matured. He has a seriously bright future. If he sticks on this path, he’s destined for something.
"I’m proud of the group and he’s a member of the group. He’s been a breath of fresh air since coming back, but he understands his role and was good again tonight.”
Saturday's victory finally ended a 12-game winless streak for the Five Stripes dating all the way back to May 16th when they beat CF Montreal. According to Bello himself, this win, coupled with coming from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with Montreal in mid-week, could represent a turning point in Atlanta's season as they seek to close the six-point gap on themselves and Columbus in the final Eastern Conference play-off spot.
“I truly believe it can be a turning point," said Bello. "Having everyone back together, everyone on the same page and getting the win today can really be a turning point in the season for us.
"We just have to keep going from here. Just because we won this game, we can’t settle for it. We have so much more work to do. I’m happy to get the win. Me, Brad (Guzan) and Miles (Robinson) are happy to be back with the group. I’m sure (Ezequiel) Barco is as well. And I’m pretty sure it showed out there today.
"All of us are together and all of us are on the same page moving forward. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the season.”
The Five Stripes are back in action on Sunday, 15 August, at home to LAFC.