FRISCO - Is 2017 the year of Kellyn Acosta?
You’d think topping a 2016 that saw his first U.S. Men’s National Team appearance, an MLS All-Star nod and taking the reins on a full-time starting role would be difficult, but through just three competitive matches, Acosta is well on his way.
The 21-year-old Homegrown’s confidence is soaring high, and his play on the field is getting a major boost from it. He started 2017 with his first brace as a professional in CCL play two weeks ago and followed it up with a blistering game-winner in LA over the weekend - just his sixth goal in what was the start of his fifth MLS campaign.
“Last year was a big year, but this year I have higher expectations for myself,” he said. “I’m just ready to, each and every game, get better as a player. I think that’s why I’m becoming more comfortable and more consistent.”
It’s just another step in the stellar evolution of Kellyn Acosta.
“I don’t see Kellyn anymore as a Homegrown kid that came up from the Academy,” head coach Oscar Pareja said. “I can see him more as a man there in the locker room…I can see him now as a guy who can take the team on his shoulders.”
As the hometown
kid man, Acosta has taken pride in a new-found leadership role among his peers - even though at times it can be a little surreal.
“I know what they’re capable of and what they can accomplish - so they get on me, I get on them and it goes both ways. I think growing in that aspect really has taken my game to another level,” he said. “I’m not that quiet guy who’s doesn’t say anything, but I think right now I’m being more comfortable and more confident to say my part. Truly, I value that people are paying attention and listening to me, that aspect has been really cool, really exciting.”
The Plano-native has showcased his versatility on the field over the last year - blossoming as a defensive midfield stalwart for his hometown club, while playing solely as a left defender when representing his country.
With the shift to a 4-4-2 formation by Oscar Pareja to start this year without playmaker Mauro Diaz, yet another element to Acosta’s game has emerged.
“When we have Mauro, he’s a guy that makes the plays happen and everything goes through him. Him not being there allows me to have more space to, I guess, roam freely,” he said, also emphasizing his growing partnership with Carlos Gruezo in the central midfield. “Oscar stresses a lot that when one of us goes up, one of us has to stay and I think we really have that job down. I think it showed in LA where at times we weren’t both pushing up like we did last year. Now we’re moving in a great system, back and forth, and it’s been working out.”
His continued evolution happening right before our eyes is - simply put - a result of his drive to be the best as a player, and as a teammate.
“I can’t just be content with what happened last year,” he said. “I want to aim for more, aim higher each year and that’s helped me grow as a player and as a person. I can’t set my bar at this level, I want it to reach the top. Each and every day is a chance to prove to myself that I can inch forward and reach that goal.”
And as for 2017 possibly being the Year of Kellyn? Acosta says he’s just focusing on getting better day in and day out and taking it one step at a time.
“It’s kind of cool that people are taking note and I’m getting some attention, but right now I’m just trying to keep my head down, keep working hard and hopefully I can continue on the path.”
“The only thing I say to Kellyn all the time is that we all have to keep aiming for more,” Pareja said. “To keep maturing, to keep learning and all these things that happen - the good, the bad, the challenging - will just to keep adding to his process, because he has a lot of tools indeed.”