TAMPA, Fla. — An area of strength became even stronger on Thursday, and the competition is only set to become more intense as a result.
The U.S. Men’s National Team saw its talented central midfield pool become that much more crowded on Thursday night, as Kellyn Acosta capitalized on his opportunity to play by turning in a solid shift that included an impressive and timely goal.
In the absence of injured Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams, Acosta played as the No. 8 in the U.S.’s 4-2-3-1 formation on Thursday. The Colorado Rapids’ midfielder was not dominant or overly influential in the 4-2 loss to Colombia, but he held his own against the opposing star-studded attack and it was his goal that sparked a quick, though brief, rally for the Americans.
“Every game is an opportunity for me to showcase myself. Obviously with some players missing, it was my turn to kind of step up,” said Acosta. “I was happy with the opportunity and I was just trying to make the most of it. Obviously, a disappointing result but I was happy with my goal.”
Acosta’s biggest contribution in the match at a wet Raymond James Stadium came in the 50th minute. Trailing Colombia after some individual brilliance from star playmaker James Rodriguez, Acosta found the splendid equalizer with a trailing run and side-footed first-timed finish to make it 1-1.
As impressive as the goal was and as crucial as it was in giving the Americans the lift they needed to take a 2-1 lead, U.S. head coach Dave Sarachan still saw some room for improvement for Acosta.
“I think Kellyn on balance had a good night,” said Sarachan. “If I were to be a little critical, and he would agree and he wasn’t the only one, but in the first half, there were some simple passes that I think he didn’t do great with. I’m not going to use the field as an excuse, but it’s not the easiest night in terms of collecting balls and passing.
“I think he on balance in the second half did a lot better with that. Kellyn, obviously, he gets the goal, but he’s got a great engine and I think he worked his way into the match and did pretty well.”
Acosta concurred and also added another area that he felt he could have done better with against the talented Colombians.
“I thought sometimes I was just trying to find my legs again. We were running a lot, and I wasn’t putting enough pressure to cause some turnovers,” said Acosta. “Obviously that didn’t help, but I think the biggest thing is just being cleaner on the ball, cleaner in the park. Playing in the midfield you’ve got to be the engine of the team and so I need to be cleaner in that aspect.”
His inaccurate passing aside, Acosta certainly did not hurt his standing in the crowded pool of American central midfielders on Thursday night. The duo of Adams and McKennie are largely seen as the future in that part of the field, but Acosta, who was playing with the U.S. even before it began this current transition to a younger generation, reminded everyone that he also has something to offer.
It might not make for easy lineup selections in the future for the future U.S. head coach, especially when you throw in the likes of Michael Bradley and Wil Trapp into the mix, but the abundance of capable players is a good problem to have.
“We have a lot of talent, a lot of new young players coming up and obviously Kellyn has been establishing himself with the national team for the past two years,” said centerback Matt Miazga. “There’s a lot of talent and that’s how it is. It’s competition, that’s good. Having competition with the national team makes us all better and makes us all train harder, play harder with our teams and try to get on the pitch. It’s good that we have a lot of options.”
Acosta, for his part, is hoping to build on this performance and looking to get the start next week against Peru. He knows he has to make up the ground he lost on the likes of Adams and McKennie when he was injured earlier this year in order to reestablish his place in the U.S. depth chart, and Thursday was a step in that direction.
No, it might not have been a perfect game, but Acosta still did well enough to earn further consideration for the minutes in the midfield.
“It’s always disappointing when you miss some games due injury,” said Acosta. “You’re trying to get back in the fold and obviously guys that come in, it’s an opportunity for other players to step up and everyone that’s been in camps have done a great job.
“Now it’s kind of my opportunity. There’s been some injuries and now it’s my chance to show the fans, show the team what I’m capable and show that I belong on this team.”