After getting benched, Danilo Acosta finding groove at left back for RSL

SANDY, Utah — Danilo Acosta has started at left back twice in the last week for Real Salt Lake, which a year ago wouldn’t have sounded weird.

This season, though, its just his second and third start in his club’s 13 games.

First he sat behind Demar Phillips, then behind Pablo Ruiz, a young midfielder RSL coach Mike Petke experimented with at left back. Now, Acosta has worked his way back into the lineup, which has been more challenging than he, or anyone else, thought would have thought at the start of his second season.

“It’s not easy at all,” Acosta said. “Being a 20-year-old, I’m still learning a lot. It’s all about the mentality. Even at the toughest time you always have to work hard and put a smile on your face. I stayed working hard and stayed quiet and once I got my opportunity I have taken advantage of it.”

Petke framed it as a consistency issue that has earned Acosta the starting spot these last two games.

“I’ve been saying it since I got here, I’m not going to hand out opportunities,” Petke said. “Guys like Danny and Bofo [Sebastian Saucedo] up until recently had been a little bit streaky. You can argue they’re young and that’s part of the process, but I know what they’re capable of and I demand a lot out of them. They’re both in a groove and doing well. Right now the next game is the most important and better than that the next practice is the most important. I love Danny, but Danny has to show me consistently and he has lately.”

A tactical change going into Saturday’s showdown with the Seattle Sounders (9:30 pm ET | TV & Streaming info) one week after RSL won 1-0 at CenturyLink Field last Saturday, may have helped spur the move to get Acosta back on the field and into his current groove.

“I think that we took much more of a defensive approach [against Seattle],” Petke said. “They understand that just because we’re sitting back at times, that doesn’t mean we’re a bad team or it doesn’t mean that we’re giving up.”

Ruiz is a converted midfielder, while Acosta has either played center back or holding mid before last season. He considers himself the opposite of right back Brooks Lennon who came up alongside Acosta in the RSL Academy, but as a winger.

“We’re both now outside backs,” Acosta said. “He’s learning how to defend. He has the attacking and I feel I have the defending and I have to work more on going up in transition. Everyday he tells me to go forward as much as I can. That’s what I’m improving on. He can help me with that and I can help him defensively.”

Acosta recognizes what he has to do to be a productive left back in the modern game and winning back his spot is just a step in the right direction.

“My main goal this year is to work on transition as far as offensively and defensively, but mostly offensively,” Acosta said. “The left backs and outside backs of this generation are more versatile. If I work more on that my game is going to improve and become even better.”

Real Salt Lake’s consecutive wins can be chalked up to a lot of things — Acosta being inserted in the starting lineup, the return of Marcelo Silva to the middle of the defense, the hot streak Saucedo has been on, or simply RSL hitting its summer stride a month earlier than it did last year.

“We still have a lot to improve on,” Acosta said. “We’ve been doing really good these past two games, but we’ve been making mistakes. You can tell we’re clicking, as far as moving the ball, tactically we’re in shape, also defensively when we have to defend and attack, that’s clicking. Hopefully it gets even better and better and better.”