121114_isi-acostakellyn_mlsmj092014233 Michael Janosz/isiphotos.com
U.S. Under-20 Men's Team

Kellyn Acosta Is Anxious for U-20 World Cup Qualifying

The U.S. under-20 team is preparing now for a January tournament that will determine whether it makes the 2015 World Cup in New Zealand. ASN's Brian Sciaretta spoke with Kellyn Acosta about team preparation.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
December 11, 2014
2:16 PM
CRUNCH TIME HAS ARRIVED for Tab Ramos and the United States U-20 national team as World Cup qualifying is now less than a month away. Kellyn Acosta, a veteran of the 2013 U-20 team, has emerged as one of the leaders on the squad and is eager to show what this team can do.

"We’re very confident," Acosta told American Soccer Now. "I know we’re all excited and looking forward to" the qualifying tournament.

Acosta, 19, is a very useful player for Tab Ramos and Oscar Pareja, his head coach a FC Dallas. He has shown the ability to play several different positions—including right back and a central, box-to-box role.

The U.S. U-20 enjoyed a successful 2014, securing a 9-1-3 record during the calendar year. Next week the U.S. will head to Honduras for training followed by a final domestic training camp later in December—and immediately before the start of the qualifying tournament which will be held in Jamaica from January 9-24.

In that tournament, the U.S. U-20s will face Guatemala, Panama, Aruba, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago. If the U.S. wins its group, it will qualify for the World Cup. The 2nd and 3rd place teams will have to play winner-take-all playoff games against teams from the other group.

Acosta is one of the most seasoned veterans on the team, both internationally and at the club level. While it's unlikely that two of the team's star players, Rubio Rubin and Emerson Hyndman, will be released for qualifying, Acosta is confident his team possesses the sort of depth necessary to get the job done.

"We have a strong group of players," Acosta said. "It’s crazy, in any group we have players who can just come in and take any other players' spot. I am looking forward to seeing what Tab has in store for us in the upcoming weeks."

Atletico Madrid youth forward Boxi Yomba was recently on the U.S. U-20 team's trip to Spain where it defeated Russia and Ireland before falling to Canada. It was Yomba's first time with the team and the Georgia native scored two goals in the tournament. He came away most impressed by Acosta's leadership on and off the field.

"Kellyn is a leader vocally and can be a leader by just his actions on the field," Yomba said. "When he needs to motivate you, he knows what to say. And if that doesn't help, he will demonstrate by his play. Off the field, he's an even cooler guy. I think he has it all, which makes him a good leader."

In MLS, Acosta is a key part of the youth movement at FC Dallas which lost in the Western Conference semifinals to Seattle. In 2013, Acosta made 13 appearances for the club; this year he made 16.

At the U-20 level, a major advantage comes to players who have earned first-team professional minutes and have made the transition from prospect to actual contributor. Acosta is still not an impact player for Dallas but he is on the right track and can feel the difference.

"I think I’m getting better," Acosta assessed. "Getting games is important and I am experiencing that kind of level. It’s good for me and it’s helping me grow. I am playing more physical. It’s a physical game. I was playing more of an outside back in MLS right now and I am trying to adapt with Tab in his system of play. It’s challenging for me but I’m accepting the challenge and just working hard."

Next year, more will be expected for FC Dallas who will have a realistic goal to be among the best teams in the Western Conference.

"I think we proved in the league what we are capable of and what we can do," Acosta said. "Oscar was very proud of us. We worked hard and fought until the end. We never gave up, and in years to come we will be a title contender."

It's very likely that 2015 will prove to be an important year for Acosta, both on the club and international levels, and he might even become the captain of the U-20 team at the World Cup. What position he will play is a completely different matter. It's possible that at qualifying he plays in the midfield and then shifts to right back at the World Cup when Hyndman joins the team.

Acosta believes that his most comfortable position over the long term is central midfield but at this stage in his career, he is willing to do whatever Ramos or Pareja ask of him.

"I’m open to any position," Acosta said. "As long as I am on the field, I am excited. Anywhere I can help the team, that is the position I will play. If I need to play left back, right back, d-mid, right mid—it doesn’t matter.

"Wherever the coach needs me and wherever the team needs me, I’m happy to be there."

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

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