Last year, Colorado Rapids head coach Robin Fraser offered his box-to-box midfielder, Kellyn Acosta, some sound advice: play with a type of arrogance. The 25-year-old Acosta heard his skipper loud and clear.
Acosta spoke at length with the Burgundy Wave and members of the media last week via virtual press conference while he was in the USMNT camp in Bradenton, Florida.
“What really has resonated with me, Robin has told me to play with a type of arrogance,” he said. “Just be decisive and go out there and show my qualities to the best of my abilities, don’t try to overthink too many things. I think the biggest thing is just go out there and show them what Kellyn Acosta is all about. ‘Cause at Rapids’ training I think I do that pretty well, obviously, it could be better... I need to transition that game into here and show my qualities and be decisive... be that player.”
Colorado fans witnessed Acosta’s feisty demeanor throughout the 2020 season. During the abridged season, he started in 14 games, played 1150 minutes, got off 27 shots on goal (11 on target), and scored twice. He even earned five yellow cards. Acosta also made the bench for Team of the Week in November thanks to a game-winning goal against the Portland Timbers that resulted in a playoff berth.
In search of excellence
Today, Acosta is wearing that arrogance on his sleeves in the 2021 USMNT evaluation camp. And head coach Gregg Berhalter has taken notice.
Acosta heeded the coach’s recommendations when the January 2020 camp closed. Berhalter raised the bar and expectations and told both Acosta and the Burgundy Wave that “There are the things that he can improve on, and as he gets fit, as he gets in better shape, we’re confident he’ll be able to execute.”
Twelve months later at the December 2020 camp, Berhalter said of Acosta: “Kellyn is an example of a guy who was in the initial January  camp that we had and then took a while to get back into it. I give him credit for all the work that he has put in, and the strong season that he had for Colorado to earn an opportunity to prove himself of national team level.”
“I’ve been really trying to tackle those things and firmly grasp what Gregg asks of me,” Acosta said during the press briefing. “It’s got me back in the fold and now that I’m back in the eyes of Gregg and the coaching staff, it’s about using this time to execute. He’s very detail-oriented, and the details at this level matter so much. Be more patient, have the ball come to me, find times to be more aggressive,” he added.
Acosta has been absorbing and acting on advice from all of his coaches — Berhalter and Jason Kreis with the national team, plus Travis Thomas, Leadership and Team Dynamics coach, and of course, the staff on the Rapids side.
“The biggest thing for me was just kind of buckling down on the now. I think what I control is the day-to-day, I want to win the day. I think that’s something that Gregg and Travis reiterate each and every day, is win the day,” said Acosta.
“The mental aspect was I needed to buckle down and work harder and do the things that the coach asked me to in the previous camp and just nail those things. I’ve been really trying to tackle those things and firmly grasp what Gregg asked of me and utilize those things and really take advantage,” he explained. “I think for the most part it’s gotten me back in the fold and now that I’m back in the eyes of Gregg and the coaching staff, to really use this time to really execute everything he asked of me.”
Acosta is also modeling his style of play after several world-class midfielders his senior. When prompted by the Burgundy Wave to elaborate, the amiable Acosta dropped a few names. “When I was growing up, I watched guys like Michael Bradley, a true professional, a guy that epitomizes what it takes to play at the highest level, play in Europe, be a captain of the national team. Even Jermaine Jones, a guy who had a different route, but when he put the crest on, he gave everything he could,” said Acosta.
“Tim Howard, as well, a teammate and a guy I am super familiar with. Although we do not play the same position, he is a guy that has tons of wisdom and has kind of taken me under his wing and helped develop me and helped me feel comfortable in my role in Colorado, even with the national team.” Acosta added.
Kellyn Acosta has experienced his fair share of obstacles throughout the years. In 2021, under the bright Florida sun, complete with his personal marching orders to win the day, Acosta is now in control. He is healthy and brimming with self-confidence. And his hard work has paid off — Berhalter named Acosta to the preliminary 25-player roster for the USMNT’s upcoming friendly against Trinidad and Tobago on January 31.