In the first 22 years of his life, midfielder Kellyn Acosta achieved just about everything a young soccer play could dream about. He'd signed a professional contract with his hometown team and then led that side to titles. He'd been selected to All-Star games and landed on 'best of' lists along the way. He'd become a mainstay for his country (and won another trophy at the international level). But as the calendar turned to 2018, something was clear to Acosta and those looking on from the outside; the young midfielder needed a change to continue his rise in the highest levels of the game.
Some people call it 'the butterfly effect'. It's a theory in which a small change can result in a large-scale, future-altering outcome. It seems this moment for Acosta may have happened the day before his 23rd birthday when he was traded to the Rapids, the first major change in his professional career.
“I got a phone call from Óscar (Pareja) saying that he wanted to meet with me,” Acosta said. “I knew what was happening before we even spoke. After our conversation, I packed my bags and was out the next morning. I came here (Colorado), and we had a game the next day, so it was just straight into it. It was a crazy 48-hours.”
Acosta had spent his entire career with FC Dallas becoming an integral part of the club, getting his start in FCD's academy program and eventually making his first-team debut as an 18-year-old in 2013.
In 2018, a preseason hernia injury and a dip in form limited Acosta's visibility on the national scene, just when other young midfielders like Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie were beginning to gain buzz and media attention.
So it seems the timing of the midseason trade to the Rapids could not have been better. Acosta was eager to regain his spot among the best in MLS and on the national team. Colorado was just the scenery change he needed to reboot his personal game and recover his love of soccer that had grown stale.
“Being here has been a refreshment, and I’ve been enjoying things again, so it’s been great,” Acosta said. “The system of play here gives me the freedom on the field to play to my strengths.”
Acosta quickly became a mainstay in Anthony Hudson’s starting lineup with two goals and two assists in his first four games in burgundy. His return to form earned Acosta a call up into the USMNT for their September friendlies against Brazil (Sept. 7) and Mexico (Sept. 11).
“It was an exciting moment for me,” Acosta said. “It was another great opportunity to be brought back into the fold. It’s was all about having the opportunity to get back and trying to make the most of it while I was there.”
Acosta has earned his spot as a regular starter with the US during the four fall friendlies for the Stars and Stripes scoring one goal (vs Colombia) and one assist (vs Peru) against top-level South American sides.
“We’ve played in some tough friendlies this year and have fared well,” Acosta said. “Obviously, there is tons of room for improvement, but I think as the year goes on, we’ll probably play in a few more friendlies so I think we’ll be ready.”
Although the Rapids season is over, Acosta still has a few more games to play in 2018. Most recently, he was called into the USMNT for their November friendlies against England (Nov. 15) and Italy (Nov. 20). He's not taking those opportunities to face the best in the world lightly.
“We really stress that the future is now, and the future is us, but we really need to implement that with our results,” Acosta said. “I think it is imperative that we not only compete well but also get the wins. In the last few friendlies we lost to Brazil, we beat Mexico, we lost to Colombia and tied Peru. So, faring well against these upcoming teams and getting results will really prove that.”
The US is using these friendlies as preparation for their 2019 campaign in which they will compete in the Gold Cup, a prestigious tournament among nations in the CONCACAF region. Acosta led the US to a win in the tournament in 2017.
“It’s definitely a tough tournament. We play in a lot of games and it’s a lot of travel. It’s going to be a great opportunity for everyone to be a part of it and to see how we compare to the CONCACAF opponents. I’m hoping to get the opportunity. We have a good young core team that is going to be ready for the challenge.”
Acosta has no qualms about the raised level of young talent making their case for minutes with European teams and the US. For now, he's focused on his personal game when it comes down to goals for 2019.
“I want to continue to do well on the national team. I want to be a mainstay starter with the Rapids, and to contribute as much as possible by tallying assists and scoring goals. Individually I want to make the All-Star team again, Best XI – any kind of accolades I can. I think the Open Cup comes first, then I want to win the MLS Cup. I want to put us in the Champions League again, so we’ll need to be Western Conference Champions and first and foremost make the playoffs. That is a goal that we can definitely achieve next year.”