It's just three games into the season for FC Dallas, but Kellyn Acosta is showing why this could be his breakout year.
The FC Dallas Homegrown gem, who placed No. 4 in last year’s 24 Under 24 ranking and has been a starter for one of the top teams in MLS since the middle of the 2015 season, continues to establish himself as one of the top central midfielders in the league.
On Saturday against the LA Galaxy, Acosta scored the game-winning goal, lifting his club, which was coming off a midweek trip to Panama for a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal second leg against Arabe Unido, to a 2-1 road win.
Acosta showed off more of his goal-scoring skills at StubHub Center it was his change of pace and quick release which stumped LA's center backs, leaving goalkeeper Brian Rowe no chance at a save (watch video above).
While he wasn't on the ball a lot on Saturday -- he attempted just 28 passes -- his positioning showed how high up the field manager Oscar Pareja wants him to play this year. Acosta (No. 23) essentially played underneath Dallas' two strikers (No. 21 and No. 9) against the Galaxy.
Compare that to where he played against the Galaxy on October 1 of last year, while teammate and playmaker Mauro Diaz (No. 10) was on the field. Acosta's average position saw him just inside his own half.
According to a tweet from ESPN's Jeff Carlisle after Saturday's game, Pareja believes Acosta is becoming more and more comfortable in his new role.
"He sees himself now as a box-to-box player. I think that is important. When a player is convinced about the position that he’s playing, [and the one] I like to see him, that is the first step to being more mature in the game."
With Diaz out until the summer, another element that Acosta will have to add to his game is creativity, which he has occasionally shown in the past. With just 20 chances created in 2016, the Texas native definitely has the opportunity to improve in that department and he could do that not only from open play, but with set pieces. He's taken the majority of the set pieces for Dallas early in the season.
He was also high up the field and did some major damage in Dallas' first leg romp against Arabe Unido in CCL, first showing his goalscoring abilities by hitting two scintillating goals from the top of the box (watch his 2nd below).
Not only did he score those two goals, but his full display of abilities was on show. Since being entrusted with the No. 8 spot in the Dallas midfield as the more attack-minded of the two center mids, Acosta has shown to be one of the top passers in MLS, more than capable of hitting 30-yard passes on a dime to his teammates as well as the simple balls to his central midfield teammate Carlos Gruezo.
His tactical IQ is also top-notch, and he's rarely out of position. Not only does he pop up in the right spots offensively, but he has also made crucial recovery tackles as the last line of defense. If you watch him closely, you’ll notice that his head is constantly on a swivel as he receives the ball, always aware of the opposition.
Athleticism is another feature in his game, as he is strong to hold onto the ball in tight situations and fast enough to blow by defenders when given the opportunity.
In addition to his work with FC Dallas, he’s been called up to the US national team on multiple occasions, earning four caps. All four of those caps came under Jurgen Klinsmann, and the former US coach played Acosta almost exclusively out of position, at fullback.
Unfortunately for Acosta, he missed an opportunity during this year’s January camp, as he was forced to leave with a mild left ankle sprain. Bruce Arena was looking for someone to fill Jermaine Jones’ spot in the midfield, with the Galaxy star slated to miss the March 24 World Cup qualifying against Honduras due to yellow card accumulation, and Acosta did not get a chance to show what he could do in the recent friendlies against Serbia and Jamaica.
It’s rather unlikely that Arena would throw him into such a pressure cooker in late March, but with a good first half of the season, Acosta could be a star of the Gold Cup team come the summer. If that happens, don't be surprised if he becomes a regular in the USMNT starting XI nine months from now.