Kellyn Acosta at USMNT training, June 26, 2017
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Bruce Arena: Kellyn Acosta, Dom Dwyer on proving ground for USMNT future

NASHVILLE – Fresh off a veritable triumph in World Cup Qualifying – a draw at the infamously unlucky Azteca – US national team boss Bruce Arena has turned his attention to the CONCACAF Gold Cup, a proving ground for fresher names who could shore up his squad ahead of Russia 2018.

But even before their Gold Cup adventure kicks off here on Saturday, July 8, the team will head to Hartford, Connecticut, for a tuneup match vs. Ghana on Saturday (4:45 pm ET, ESPN, UniMás,UDN). It's another opportunity for Arena to observe how the newer faces figure into the USMNT picture. They’ll all just have to get used to each other, first.

“We have a relatively new team, so the first couple of days are devoted to giving them a few ideas on the way we think we want to play, and then them getting to know me, me getting to know them” Arena said. “ All these little things are just building relationships from the start.”

One newcomer both Arena and fans will watch, hawk-eyed, is Dom Dwyer, a recently minted US citizen.

“We’ve seen him for years in the league, and he’s certainly been a good player at Sporting Kansas City, and now we get to see him up close and personal with our group and get a better feel for him as a player,” Arena said. “We’ll let the process play itself out and see where Dom fits in as we continue to move forward.”

But while Dwyer is just starting to squeeze his way into the squad, another MLS star might fully cement his: Kellyn Acosta. After starting in the famous Azteca draw, the 21-year-old FC Dallas midfielder proved some serious budding stardom – and, Arena intimated, Russia 2018 could well prove a possibility.

“I think the national team program is a long process throughout this year and certainly next year, and Kellyn’s now positioned himself for more playing time,” Arena said. "This tournament’s going to be important for him.”

Whatever the final results, Arena’s heartened by the depth of his pickings for this camp. “The players certainly have more opportunities today than ever before,” he said. “It’s interesting to see the combination of young players with some more experienced players we have. It’s encouraging and it’s certainly a positive for Major League Soccer.”