Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta are at different stages of their careers, but both have entered July with the same thing to prove to U.S. Men’s National Team manager Bruce Arena.
McCarty, the wily MLS veteran enjoying the form of his life, and Acosta, who many are starting to believe is the heir apparent to Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones, paired well together on Saturday in the USMNT’s 2-1 win over Ghana.
The combination of McCarty and Acosta works so well because they both bring different skill sets to the table, and they both have a solid understanding of how the defensive midfield role should be played.
“He’s a really good player and a smart player,” McCarty said. “I like to consider myself a smart player because I don’t have the most athleticism and I’m not the fastest guy in the world. He’s much more athletic than I am, but I have to play with my brain. I think both of us, we know how the spacing needs to be, I think for 80 percent of the game, he’s going to be more forward.”
“(Kellyn)’s smart enough to know when I leave my position and go forward, you need that balance in your central midfield,” McCarty added. “If you don’t have that, your team is going to be all over the place. I thought the balance was good tonight and it’s only going to get better.”
Acosta echoed McCarty’s sentiment about growing as a pairing as the minutes add up between the duo of central midfielders.
“Definitely room to grow,” Acosta said. “I think we’re just trying to build chemistry and that happens with games and consistency. As it goes on, the partnership will get stronger. Overall the first game together I thought we did a pretty good job.”
Acosta is the more attack-minded of the two players, and he’s been a major asset for the USMNT on set pieces. The FC Dallas man scored the second USMNT goal of the match off a free kick, one he measured up after his initial set piece.
“My first one I hit the wall and the keeper was kind of cheating a little bit and I knew the second one I was a little close to putting it over the wall,” Acosta said. “Graham (Zusi), Kelyn (Rowe) and Dom (Dwyer) said hit the frame, hit the keeper’s side and good things will happen. I knew it was hard for him to see the ball so I knew if I just hit it low to his side, maybe he saves it, maybe he puts the ball right there for a tap in or it goes straight in. I was happy to put it straight in.”
McCarty is a veteran trying to work his way into the USMNT first team before Russia next summer, a goal he feels he can attain with a strong July despite not playing much in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers.
“For me, being one of the older guys here, but I’m also one of the guys that has not very many caps so I still have dreams of going to the World Cup and representing the national team and it’s an important camp for me and for a lot of guys,” McCarty said. “This is a camp and a tournament where you can earn the coaching staff’s trust because in the qualifiers I haven’t found the field very often.”
As the partnership continues to grow, both McCarty and Acosta have confidence in not only themselves, but the entire group that the month of July will end with the hoisting of the Gold Cup.
“I’m a competitive guy,” McCarty said. “I hate not being on the field with my club team or national team. I know this is a step up in level, but I’m confident in my abilities and myself. I feel like I’m in the best form of my career right now. Chicago’s been great for me. It was a good change and I just feel confident and I feel like if I can do the things that make me a good player and try to just fit the system of our team, I’m going to try and help this team be successful. That’s all I want to be is a good teammate.”
“Every tournament, every game we go in confident that we’re going to win,” Acosta said. “We’re not here to just compete, we’re here to hold up a trophy at the end of the day. This was a tough game for us, but we came in here knowing we could get the result and we battled for 90 minutes and we got just that. We were pretty sound defensively. We need to fine tune some things, but things will come. Overall I thought we did a tremendous job.”