Kellyn Acosta is a homegrown talent from Dallas, Texas who now has 50 appearances for FC Dallas who finished as Western Conference Finalists in 2015. PDP Editor, Dave Wright spoke to Kellyn about his player development journey.
Now 20 years old with two U20 World Cups behind him, Acosta is a product of the club’s academy. A young player with big ambitions who speaks fondly of playing street soccer constantly as a key part of his development, we caught up with Kellyn to discuss player development and American soccer style.
PDP: Can you tell us about your family and cultural background?
KA: I grew up watching soccer at a young age and lived across the street from a school. My Mom and Dad would always go outside and work with me. In the USA a lot of kids play soccer young and I just enjoyed it, I excelled at a young age. If it was a small game I would always run with the ball, dribble around people and score, so I would surprise myself and started thinking, ‘I’m kinda good at this’ so I just kept pursuing it. I would often play for hours at a time every day I would be across the street playing, or just kicking a ball against a wall and then I started getting my friends to play with me at recess.
PDP: Tell us a bit about football in Dallas and the environments you played in as a child.
KA: I used to bring my soccer ball to school and playing just helped me grow. I didn’t really play organised soccer until I got involved into a league a little later on. We would play on concrete and play street football on basketball courts. I played my first organised games at school and they were 4 or 5-a-side, on very small fields. The rest of the time it was disorganized, just playing where everyone got involved.
PDP: Did you play other sports or specialise in soccer at an early age?
KA: I was around 13 or 14 when I came into the academy. It was a great experience. I was lucky that I got to stay at home, have that stability and play in my hometown – a lot of players get put up in a house or apartment complex which would be more difficult. I would wake up at the crack of dawn and we would train for a couple of hours and then car pool to school from there. The academy had a set up with the school where the first two school periods were considered athletics class and then we maintained our normal school education from there.
PDP: What style of play do you think best describes FC Dallas?
KA: We try to play with a possession-oriented approach. We have speedy wingers who like to get in behind but we string a lot of passes together before we go forward. We will always look to try and exploit space in behind opposition teams and lately it’s been pretty successful for us.
PDP: Do you think the style of play in the US national teams you have played for reflects American culture?
KA: Every national team has a different style. I feel in the age group teams we were more physical and aggressive but as I’ve moved up the style has become more technical and we have to be on our ‘A game’ technically. Against the European teams, playing against teams like Ukraine in the U20 World Cup we got a wake up call – they had it all, they were technically and tactically sound as a team.
PDP: What kind of coaching style do you respond to best?
KA: I love when coaches let us play, and to be honest I have never really had a coach say ‘you have to play this way’ like a military sergeant! I like a coach that will step back and watch us do our thing, and having coaches like that has helped me come a long way. Obviously at times coaches will push you to put a tackle in or help tactically, but a coach that lets you enjoy and love the game is something I appreciate.
PDP: Can you tell us your advice for young players everywhere trying to reach their potential?
KA: Work hard. You never know who is watching, so you have to put in the extra hours. If you are weak on your left foot, work on it. Fitness is also a big thing, a lot of coaches these days won’t take a player if he can’t run. You have to have technique and smarts, but speed and agility play a big part of it and coaches are looking for smart players than can move and have speed. Working on the little things will help you excel and grow.
PDP: Do you have mentors you look up to?
KA: I had a coach called Zequinha who played with Pele in Brazil and played in the USA too. I used to do skills work with him three or four times a week. He was also a bit like a father figure to me, I would get to hang out at his house, we would talk soccer and he was a great role model. He told me what I would need to do and I executed his plans, and without his advice and help I wouldn’t be where I am today.
PDP: How would your best friend define your playing style?
KA: I think I’d be best described as a hard-working, technical player. I can create space, strike with both feet and love to score goals.
PDP: How would you define creativity in football?
KA: Creativity is about not doing the obvious. It’s making that play that no one else sees, perhaps trying something different. It could be beating a player, playing a tough through ball and just doing something that other players haven’t seen coming.
PDP: Tell us about your experience in New Zealand at the 2015 U20 World Cup.
KA: It was a great experience, and technically my third World Cup as I was at the last U20 tournament and played in the U17 World Cup before that. The last time I wasn’t really in the team but got to take it all in so playing regularly this time was great. The tournament was a wake up call for us, playing against international teams and seeing where we’re at against the likes of Serbia, New Zealand and Ukraine. Serbia and Ukraine had a similar style, they were physical, tactical and knew their jobs. They had some exceptionally creative players with a lot of talent.
PDP: What are your long-term ambitions?
KA: Right now I am playing MLS, but I do dream of playing for a top tier team in Europe. I think if I could achieve that goal of playing in Europe I would then make the USA Men’s Senior Team. I want to play in tournaments for the USA, play in the World Cup, Confederations Cup and hopefully in time, we can win a World Cup!
Cover Image: Kellyn Acosta for FC Dallas, against Montreal Impact. Photo: R. Yeatts