EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – Bruce Arena made his perspective clear before the U.S. national team’s friendly on Saturday against Ghana: A strong Gold Cup could mean increased opportunities in World Cup qualifying.

That opportunity certainly applied to Kellyn Acosta, the FC Dallas midfielder who has gone from a US fringe piece during Jurgen Klinsmann’s tenure to a constant during Bruce Arena’s second term.The about-face was not lost on the 21-year-old, who made a strong case against the Black Stars to see his role further grow.

“My mindset is to get more games and be more comfortable in my role and put ideas in Bruce’s head that I belong here, that I want a starting role when you incorporate the guys in Europe,” Acosta said. “It’s a big tournament for me. I’m just trying to make the most of it, battle and do what I do and be consistent in that spot.”

Most notably, Acosta made good on his reputation from dead-ball scenarios, blasting a free kick past the outstretched arms of 'keeper Richard Ofori in the 52nd minute. His strike was the eventual game-winner in a 2-1 win at Rentschler Field, a victory which now has the U.S. national team riding high ahead of next Saturday’s Gold Cup opener against Panama.

What loomed largest, though was his partnership in the heart of the midfield with Dax McCarty. With the Chicago Fire man holding in front of the US back line, Acosta often flooded forward from his No. 8 position, linking defense and attack.

“A guy like Kellyn, he’s like a sponge and wants to soak up everything,” McCarty said. “You tell him something, and he doesn’t question it; he just kind of accepts it. I’m really proud of him. He’s got a really bright future ahead of him, and I want to be a small part of it. Hopefully I can help help him grow as a player, and he can help me as a player, as well.”

Acosta, now in his fifth season with FC Dallas and with nine caps, has helped himself along plenty. He most recently started in the USA’s World Cup qualifier against Mexico, a 1-1 draw at Estadio Azteca, and came on as a sub in their 2-0 qualifying win over Trinidad and Tobago.

From those showings – and his vital role against Ghana – goalkeeper Brad Guzan said this version of Acosta is the one fans should come to know.

“Listen, Kellyn’s tidy on the ball, he’s good on the ball, he’s good with both feet and he can strike the ball well,” Guzan said. “He sees the game well, so he’s a big player for us and he’s got a huge future ahead of himself. For him, to get in these games that aren’t always easy, where you have to defend and you have to grind, that is international football.”

And it’s the international stage where Acosta has an opportunity this summer to prove he belongs not just in the Gold Cup, but in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

“I try to humble myself as much as possible,” Acosta said. “I’m very fortunate with the opportunities that have been given to me, but I always keep my head down and keep working as hard as possible. Every practice, every game, it’s an opportunity for me to get better.”