4417_isi_acostakellyn_mlsmj030417242 Michael Janosz/isiphotos.com
Player Spotlight

Kellyn Acosta: "It's Time for Us to Make Our Marks"

The 21-year-old midfielder is playing a key role for his club and seems likely to establish a bigger role with his country in the months ahead. Brian Sciaretta spoke with U.S. Soccer's Man of the Moment.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
April 04, 2017
7:45 AM

BY ALL ACCOUNTS, Kellyn Acosta enjoyed a very good 2016.

He was a regular starter for an FC Dallas team that won the Supporters Shield; he made his debut with the United States national team; and he even saw action in high-stakes World Cup qualifiers.

So far in 2017 the Texas native has managed to up his game.

Acosta is currently in Mexico as he prepares for Tuesday night’s CONCACAF Champions League semifinal second leg against Pachuca. FC Dallas won the opening leg, 2-1, at home and it was Acosta who scored the winner on a beautiful free kick from distance.

Despite the goal advantage, Pachuca is still the favored team to advance—MLS teams do not have a great track record in this competition—but Acosta is anxious to get out onto the field.

“It's huge, we'd be the first MLS team to ever win it,” Acosta told American Soccer Now from Mexico. “Just to have that in the back of our heads is extra motivation for us to go out and get the result we need. Pachuca is definitely going to be tough. Winning 2-1 at home helps our cause but a lot of work has to be done.

“We came a week early just for preparation and we have all eyes and efforts on this game. Guys are ready and prepared. They're itching to play.”

With the way he’s been playing, who could blame Acosta for wanting to get back out onto the field?

Acosta, 21, has emerged as one of the potential breakout players in 2017 and he will have plenty of opportunities to build on his strong start. In addition to the Champions League knockout stages and MLS, Acosta will also have the U.S. Open Cup and the start of the 2017-18 Champions League in the fall—not to mention the MLS playoffs.

“I think he’s a phenomenal player, and America has a fantastic midfielder there,” FC Dallas head coach Oscar Pareja said last month. “I know Kellyn enough to know he will keep his feet on the ground knowing the journey is really long, and I hope for him he keeps helping the team and helping himself with these kinds of performances.”

Acosta is also an increasing presence on the U.S. national. He was with the U.S. for a pair of crucial World Cup qualifiers in March and played the final 15 minutes in the 1-1 away draw against Panama that put the U.S. team back on track to qualifying.

As someone who saw the team under former coach Jurgen Klinsmann and now under new coach Bruce Arena, he was impressed by the tone ushered in by the new boss.

“It was a good camp and I thought I did well,” Acosta said. “I was very excited for the opportunity to go out there and represent again. I put a lot of time and effort into it. Overall I thought we definitely had a new look. I don't know what but it seemed like everyone just had more fun.

“In practices everyone was more cheerful. We were more united in a way on the field. It showed. In the Honduras game everyone went out there and took it to them. A big credit goes to the coaching staff. Everyone was really prepared. It was exciting to see.”

The cap Acosta earned against Panama was his fifth for the national team but it was his debut in the central midfield position where he feels most comfortable and believes he is at his best. Under Klinsmann, Acosta was predominantly used as either a right or a left back—similar to where he played for the U.S. U-20 team at the 2015 World Cup.

Now back in his favorite position, where he plays weekly for his club, Acosta is optimistic he will be in a position to help the team moving forward.

“It's very important,” Acosta said of finally playing in the midfield for the United States. “I was so happy to be looked at more as a defensive mid. That is a spot where I definitely feel more comfortable. Hopefully in the future I'll continue playing there. I'm glad Bruce sees me in that way. Hopefully I can continue progressing and growing. Fullback is a position I can definitely play but I would rather in the center-mid role.”

Acosta’s strong start to 2017 really began in the offseason. After winning the Supporters’ Shield, Dallas was expected to contend for MLS Cup but lost early in the playoffs in no small part due to the injury to Mauro Diaz.

Acosta decided not to take much of a break in the offseason. After a week off he traveled to Michigan to train at an athletic center and work on specific goals. He wanted to be “more clinical in front of the goal” by working on his finishing as well as his crossing. He also wanted to become more of an offensive threat from the central midfield position.

The end result has been apparent and Acosta believe his intense offseason workouts made the difference: "I’m glad I put in the effort. It's really been showing."

Walker Zimmerman, a teammate of Acosta both on the national team and at Dallas, agrees

“He’s so talented, and we’ve seen it the whole time he’s been here,” Zimmerman said. “Just watching his growth, not only from a playing standpoint but confidence and reading the game and putting himself in really good spots. Obviously, I think he’s being a little more aggressive by trusting his shot a little more.”

The United States national team will next assemble in June for a home qualifier against Trinidad & Tobago and a road game against archrival Mexico. Following that Acosta could get a shot in the Gold Cup—and there’s a real chance he could play alongside other young he has known for years–like Paul Arriola, Emerson Hyndman, Christian Pulisic, and Matt Miazga.

“In a sense we're the next ones coming up,” Acosta said. “There are guys on the national team that are approaching the ending part of their careers. It's time for us to make our marks. There are guys like me, Paul, Christian, and other younger guys trying to get minutes. It's great to see. We've kind of come a long way from youth teams all the way up now. That's how the game goes. We're definitely excited.”

A lot of soccer remains to be played before Acosta dons the Stars & Stripes again—and the Pachuca clash should be epic. If Dallas wins, it would be perhaps the biggest victory in club history.

Acosta is a revered in Dallas because he is a local and because he has been a crown jewel of the club’s commitment to youth development. It is only fitting he will be front and center Tuesday night against one of Mexico’s best teams.

“This club has given everything to me,” Acosta said. “I've been here since I was 13 years old from the academy team to the senior team now. I'm very blessed and grateful for the opportunity and the coaching staff for putting me out onto the field. I am trying to bring an MLS Cup to Frisco and it would be a dream come true to win something for this club.

“That is our overall aim—to bring as many titles as we can. It starts with the Champions League.”

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