MLS In Focus: Dallas’ Kellyn Acosta


MLS Writer

Major League Soccer held its second annual Homegrown Game on Tuesday night, and none of its teams were more represented than FC Dallas. Alex Zendejas, Jesse Gonzalez, and Coy Craft all played a half for the homegrown side against Club America’s U-20s. It’s good that they saw playing time, because they don’t regularly in MLS. The three of them have combined to play just 141 minutes this season for Dallas.

But this isn’t a case of Oscar Pareja refusing to play his youngsters. In the last three games, Pareja kept his starting XI the same. The average age of the outfield players was just 24.5. Two homegrown players have served as the base of Dallas’ midfield of late, and here, I want to focus on the youngest member of that lineup, Kellyn Acosta.


I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that this is what first caught my eye about Acosta. He made Diego Chara look foolish with a simple cut back inside, then punishes the rest of the Timbers for giving him so much space by showing off a powerful left foot. Mind you, that’s his weaker foot.

How’s that for a 20th birthday present?


Acosta played like a birthday boy on Saturday night; he also had this assist on Michael Barrios’ goal early on. But for the season, he has just two goals and the one assist, so perhaps it’s best to look at what he more regularly provides.


In Dallas’ 4-2-3-1, Acosta plays alongside Victor Ulloa in front of the back four. They don’t venture forward all that much, instead sitting back to shut down opponent’s attacks. It’s something they do particularly well. This in turn frees up the front four (Mauro Diaz in particular) to do a little work on defense, and create more damage on the counter when the ball is won back.


Last weekend, Acosta’s role pitted him against Portland’s Diego Valeri, and the youngster did well to limit one of the best playmakers in MLS. Above, Acosta wins the ball off of Valeri and starts Dallas going the other way.


Those are Valeri’s open play passes from Saturday. None of his passes led directly to a shot, and there’s almost nothing in the dangerous area outside the box, where Acosta prevented him from receiving the ball and causing damage.


Having won the ball, Acosta does a good job of keeping it, which is equally important. He has a few of these feints in his repertoire, and he has a knack for evading pressure and finding space in which to operate more calmly. Chara, presumably, will not miss playing him.


With consistent playing time in central midfield, Acosta has begun to show a bit more vision and ambition with his passing. The pass above is not as easy as he makes it look.


This really should have been an assist for Acosta, but Fabian Castillo’s header goes right towards the keeper. It was the third long, diagonal ball from Acosta to Castillo in the span of just a few minutes against DC, and the most dangerous of the bunch.

The well-rounded nature of Acosta’s game is not something you typically see from an American teenager. So it should come as no surprise that he started four matches for the U.S. U-20s during this year’s World Cup in New Zealand. While much of that squad has struggled to find senior-level playing time for their respective clubs, Acosta already has 31 MLS starts under his belt. That sort of experience pays off.

The opportunities FC Dallas and its academies have offered young players are good for their development as individuals and as members of future national teams. Their academy has won both praise and trophies for their efforts, most recently winning a national championship at the U-16 level. In all, five homegrown players have made appearances for Dallas in MLS this season. But here’s the part Oscar Pareja will care most about: Dallas has the best record in MLS. They have won five straight games.

While he isn’t as flashy as the dynamic duo of Diaz and Castillo, Acosta deserves credit for some of that success. When he is on the field, FCD concedes goals at a rate of 0.61 per 90 minutes; when Acosta isn’t there, that rate jumps to 1.70 goals per 90. Those numbers are reflected in his team’s record. Dallas is 7-0-3 with Acosta starting in midfield.

The ability level of their young players has Dallas atop the standings despite being near the bottom in payroll. Their success over the last year and a half under Pareja shows that MLS teams do not need to shell out huge salaries for foreign stars in order to create a strong team.

But their relative lack of star power has made it easy for Dallas to be overlooked. They have played a number of games on Univision’s Friday night broadcasts, but have not yet appeared on ESPN or Fox Sports this season. Fabian Castillo got his chance to shine on the big stage of the All-Star game on Wednesday. The whole team will make their first national appearance this Sunday against Chicago.

  • send over the RFP

    this article sucks, I can’t complain about any of the three NY teams

  • slowleftarm

    Terrific article, thanks.

  • captfantastic

    FCD also just won the U15 national championship too.