FRISCO - As FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids square off on Saturday at Toyota Stadium, it figures to be a Homegrown display with international call-ups creating opportunities for many youngsters on the Dallas roster. But those opportunities perhaps wouldn’t be possible without the trailblazing Academy product who will don a different color shirt on the field.
This weekend will mark the first return of former Homegrown Kellyn Acosta since last summer’s blockbuster trade that sent the one-time face of the FCD model to the Rapids in exchange for Dominique Badji. It’ll also be a chance for many of the young faces in Dallas to play against the one who.
“He forged the path for a lot of these kids to come, especially me,” defender Reggie Cannon said this week of his still close friend. “It honestly wouldn’t have been as possible without Kellyn making that path, breaking into the first team.”
Acosta was the first real example of a player going straight from the FCD Academy to first-team regular - signing a Homegrown deal in the summer of 2012 and playing 11 matches with the pro team the very next season. The midfielder enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2015 before earning his first U.S. Men’s National Team call-up and taking the league by storm a year later in 2016.
Victor Ulloa was another great Homegrown example for the young Academy kids, but at 17 years old in his debut, it was Acosta who was the model. For young, relatively unknown names in the system like Cannon, Paxton Pomykal, Edwin Cerrillo and so many others, he was the aspiration.
Eight months to the day after the trade, the names are now known and in all likelihood will be going toe-to-toe with their trailblazer.
“It’s special for me because he was a big influence I looked at when signing pro and he was the perfect role model for me,” said Pomykal, who could match his career total in minutes coming into the season in just the fourth week of 2019. “As much as we [are looking forward to] him to com[ing] back, I think he’s going to love to come back and see all the fans and the team and everybody.”
“It was him and Victor Ulloa [who I looked up to]. I came here in my U-15 Academy year and coming to games and seeing them on the field, they just became role models for me to one day be like them,” the 18-year-old debutant Cerrillo added. “Before Kellyn was gone, I got the chance to train with him and the first team and we exchanged a couple fo words and he told me to keep pushing and working.”
Even today, despite the distance, the friendships and ties Acosta has to FCD remain strong. The progress made by the youngsters who once looked up to him is something that Acosta is proud of, even though he's started a new chapter in his life.
"It's happy to me to see from afar, seeing those guys that I watched playing in the Academy, training with the first team, and now they're playing with the first team," Acosta told Pro Soccer USA's Arman Kafai this week. "That's a proud moment for me to see guys like that do well and take their game to the next level. It really shows how exceptional the FC Dallas Academy is and how pro-ready they are."
Last year, in the first meeting against his old in Colorado, the midfielder was the first to check on his fellow Homegrown Ulloa in the first half when he took a knock. When Reggie Cannon took a knock of his own two weeks ago against the LA Galaxy - the first brush with injury in his pro career, it was Acosta who was quick to check in.
“He was one of the first ones to text me when I had that injury, ‘I hope you’re ok.’ He knew how much I was hurting emotionally and mentally, but he was the one who helped me get out of that place and be prepared for me next opportunity,” Cannon said. “I’ll always have respect for Kellyn and what he did for me as an athlete, but more importantly as a friend.”
“We have some young players who looked up to Kellyn growing up and now they have the chance to compete and beat him, and that’s great,” head coach Luchi Gonzalez said. “I had the privilege of coaching Kellyn my first year in the Academy and he’s a great person with high character. He was the first to turn in his registration or his paperwork and be on time [even though] he was a signed pro. He was first [at everything] off the field and that shows you why he’s such a strong competitor on the field.”