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Kellyn Acosta shakes off nerves to impress in USMNT debut

Kellyn Acosta USMNT 45

It is not uncommon to see U.S. Men’s National Team players struggle with nerves in their debuts. The weight of the moment can get to them, and has caused even the most gifted youngsters to deliver duds.

Kellyn Acosta could have been the latest example of that, but he fought off those customary first-game jitters to turn in a performance that both he and head coach Jurgen Klinsmann were proud of.

The U.S. got 2016 started on the right foot by defeating Iceland, 3-2, in a friendly at StubHub Center in Carson, California, on Sunday, and one of the main talking points after the match was the steady overall play of Acosta. The 20-year-old FC Dallas regular got the nod at left back, a position both familiar and foreign to him, and showed the type of encouraging signs that have been seen far too sporadically at that spot in recent years.

“I think after he kind of settled his nerves after 10-15 minutes, he really played like he belonged in this team,” said Klinsmann. “It was really, really fun to watch.”

That Acosta, a natural defensive midfielder, was deployed out on the left side of the defense was a fairly new development. The promising up-and-comer — who earned his first call-up this month after a strong 2015 MLS season — had been looking sharp and drawing positives reviews in training at right back with the U.S. these past couple weeks.

Klinsmann moved Acosta to the left fullback spot in recent days, however. The U.S. boss was counting on Acosta’s versatility and talent to win out despite the fact that the fourth-year professional had limited experience at that position.

Acosta had only played, and struggled, there at the Under-20 World Cup last summer, but concerns about him having a tough time vs. Iceland were put to rest in the first half as he held his own defensively. It was in the attack, though, where Acosta did not look all that comfortable.

Not until he shook off those first-game butterflies, at least.

“I was really excited, more so nervous at first,” said Acosta. “I just didn’t want to make mistakes and I think I kind of played into my timidness. As the game went on, I was (less) anxious and ready to contribute and I think that really helped me.”

It was not as if Acosta was poor in the first half. He avoided turning the ball over in dangerous spots, and was able to overlap to join in on the the attack on a few occasions. Still, the end product and confidence were lacking, which was part of the reason why the U.S. was so one-dimensional in the attack in the opening 45 minutes.

Acosta was able to provide improved play after halftime. He was more aggressive getting forward, and looked more at ease when on the ball. On one play, Acosta even slipped in a neat ball behind the Icelandic defense that could have led to a quality chance on goal, but left midfielder Gyasi Zardes did not correctly read the play and failed to anticipate the pass.

Promising moments like that largely eluded Acosta during the young Americans’ U-20 World Cup campaign last summer, but coming up with a few more of them in training in the next few weeks could lead to him being integrated into the U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team before its Olympic qualifying playoff vs. Colombia in March.

Acosta was left off the roster that fell short of directly reaching the summer games in Brazil last October, but might be doing enough right now to convince U.S. U-23 head coach Andi Herzog that he’s worthy of filling one of the unsettled fullback spots next time around.

“I felt like I put myself in a good position, but at the end of the day it’s coach Herzog’s opinion of whoever he wants to play on the field,” said Acosta. “Right now I think I’ve been doing a good job and I’m just going to continue progressing and continue doing well. Hopefully he chooses me at the end of the day, but all I can do is just keep working hard and hope everything falls for me.”

Acosta will have another glorious opportunity to state his case before the home-and-away series vs. Colombia, as the senior U.S. team returns to StubHub Center on Friday to take on Canada. Acosta believes he did well for himself in his debut on Sunday, but knows there is more he can show.

“I think I just need to be more comfortable,” said Acosta. “Now that I’ve got this game, this weight off my shoulders, now I just know what to expect. Canada is a good team, they’re going to be tough, but I think I’m ready to go. I think I know what it takes (after) playing in my first cap, and I’m ready to go.”


  1. If he was killing it in training at RB why was he shifted to LB for the match? Don’t we already know what Orozco and Brad E gives us?? We don’t have a lock down RB that i know of, especially considering Yedlin is not playing much now and when he is with the Nats its as a RW. I think Desevio Payne, as someone mentioned, will end up holding down that spot, he was quite impressive at the U-20 WC so why not give Acosta a run out at RB. I think Ream will continue to hold down the LB spot and why not, he’s been great there albeit not the fleetest of foot getting forward but its not necessary with Fabian doing what he does best at LM.

    • Ream has not been anything approaching ‘great’. His defense is solid if he isn’t up against speed. If he’s up against speed, he’s toast (remember him getting torched by Brazil?). Add that to the fact that he adds little to the attack, and great definitely isn’t what I’ve seen. ‘Great’ is beyond his ceiling at left back. Acosta looked better than Ream’s best game at left back.

  2. “Promising moments like that largely alluded Acosta during the young Americans’ U-20 World Cup” … um, perhaps you mean a different word? See what I did there? That was an allusion… I called up the word you meant… without actually using it Franco

  3. A nice showing by the kid. However, what does klinsman have against playing guys at their positions? The kid will probably go back to mid with his club and then won’t play LB again until the Nats ? will be asked to do that against more elite completion ? I see this as one of the biggest reasons for inconsistency during klinsi’s reign

    • We don’t need more defensive midfielders. Leftback has been and will remain a weak spot until we find a capable candidate to man it consistently.

      Additionally, when you pick 23 players for a tournament it’s imperative some of those players can play multiple positions.

    • Not saying Kellyn would be called up for every US match, but I think they said yesterday that Zardes played like 19 matches for country last season. Even if Kellyn isn’t playing leftback in Dallas, 19 games would provide a significant opportunity for anybody to train/play a position if that became a more consistent role for him with Klinsmann.

      Acosta’s skill set seems a reasonable fit for the biggest hole in our roster pool. Not sure I’d put him ahead of Payne right now, but that’s about his only competition near his age group as opposed to the ridiculous logjam at CDM.

    • Most of our leftbacks in USMNT history, were converted from other positions. This is not exclusive to Klinsmann. Shea, Beasley, Bocanegra, Lewis, Fabian Johnson. Acosta has played LB in the youth system and reality is that without him playing out there, he probably does not warrant a call up to the USMNT at this time.

  4. Acosta’s crossing was somewhat erratic, but he was high energy and made some really good overlapping runs down the flank. Like many other youth players, he’ll need to find the position he is best at at the international level. He looked pretty good at d-mid this past year with Dallas, but that position seems pretty stacked at his age group; he showed some good passing skills around the box yesterday, which reflects how he plays at the club level. Outside back always seems to be a position of need for the national team, so we shall see.

    • We have a lot of bodies at d-mid but I’m not sure anyone stands out as a partner for MB, especially since JJ won’t be around by Russia. I’d like to see Kellyn given a chance in that role, maybe against Canada. That said, left-back is a problem spot for the USMNT right now too.

      • Agreed, I want to see him get a chance d-mid. He generally looks pretty sharp there with Dallas. Thought it was a big mistake by Ramos not to play him there in the U-20 World Cup. His versatility probably hurts him in these instances, though; he is a serviceable left back, which is, like you said, consistently a weak spot for U.S. teams at all levels.

      • Maybe no-one “stands out as a partner for MB” yet, but the depth and quality available at CM for the next 2-6 years is looking good. There are a lot of talented, quality CMs within the US pool (Cameron, Williams, Morales, Nagbe, Tchani, Kitchen, Stanko, Gil, Trapp, Canouse, Zelalem, Senora, etc…). We should be able to find 3-4 among this list to represent us.

        If you compared to the depth/options at LB….Ream, Shea, Rogers, Payne, Pelosi, Acosta…it’s fairly clear that there is a greater possibility to advance on the Sr. level as a LB than as a CM.

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