Despite struggles, Acuna turning heads at U-23 camp

CARSON, Calif. – Standing a burly 6-foot-1, Isaac Acuña has never been a man to shy away from a challenge. Recently, though, challenges seem to be coming at lightning speed for the youngster from Calexico, Calif.

Acuña has bounced around Mexico over the past several seasons, making appearances for Club América, Querétaro and second-division club Mérida. Things took a turn for the worst for the 22-year-old last August, when he was dismissed from América’s first team after reportedly arriving to training intoxicated.

While he may have run into troubles, the door of opportunity has not shut. Acuña received his first summons to US Under-23 training camp earlier this year by head coach Caleb Porter. Although Acuña has been unable to find stability in his club career, he is ready to face the challenge of finding a regular spot on Porter’s U-23 side.

“I’m very excited to be here for this great opportunity and I’m hoping that I do well so that the coach picks me,” Acuña told MLSsoccer.com on Monday evening after training at the Home Depot Center. “Our group is united and strong and we are showing well in training. I can be very helpful to the team because I know that I send good passes, but I have to learn the system. I’ve been talking with coach Porter and he’s been a great help to me to learn the system.”

Acuña’s familiarity with Porter’s high-octane possession-oriented system was evident during last Friday’s scrimmage against the US senior team. He impressed in that match, making several positive runs forward from his midfield spot after coming on in the second half.

Performance aside, Acuña has also drawn favorable reviews from his U-23 teammates, who compliment the gritty midfielder for his skillful passing and his ability to use his size to his advantage when moved up top as a target forward.

“This is the first time that I’ve been with him, but I definitely think that he’s a good player,” Club Tijuana attacker Joe Corona told MLSsoccer.com. “He’s getting along with the group and hopefully everything goes well for him because I see good things in his future.”

Following the U-23s' tour of Costa Rica, which includes matches against the Deportivo Saprissa reserves on Saturday and Alajuelense on Jan. 24, Acuña will attempt to sort out his club career with Mérida. And if things don’t work out, trying his luck in MLS is an option.

“People have had interest in me before and the truth is that would not be a bad idea to come here,” said Acuña. “But right now, I’m just concentrating on getting into this team and then we’ll see if I can come play over here.”

Adam Serrano can be reached at adam.m.serrano@gmail.com