As the U.S. U-20 Men’s National Team prepared to board its flight from Florida to Kingston, Jamaica, in the early afternoon of January 5, midfielder Kellyn Acosta gathered his teammates for a group selfie. It was a simple, fun exercise, but a clear sign that Acosta is the leader of the team at the 2015 CONCACAF U-20 Championship.
Before the team departed, U-20 National Team head coach Tab Ramos named Acosta as the team’s captain for the tournament that will serve as the qualifying competition for the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup.
“Naming someone captain is not as easy as just saying ‘ok, you wear the captain’s band’,” Ramos said. “I think by naming Kellyn captain, I’m challenging him a little bit to take responsibility and to take control of the team.”
Acosta is arguably the most experienced player on the 20-man roster. He was involved in the previous U-20 cycle and already has three years of professional experience with FC Dallas in Major League Soccer.
“It’s a great honor. I’m glad Tab gave it to me,” Acosta said. “I want to make the most of it and help my teammates in any way possible – not being only a vocal leader but also showing with my actions. I’m glad to play the role and I can’t wait for it.”
Acosta and goalkeeper Zack Steffen are the only two players who made the 2013 FIFA World Cup roster, although neither saw action. Still, their experience will be important for Ramos’ side.
“Kellyn is one of those guys that’s been involved with U.S. Soccer at every level, so he’s experienced it all,” Ramos said. “I think for us and for the future of our senior National Team it’s good to bring young players along and give them experiences so that hopefully they can one day be 10-15 year National Team players. In both Kellyn and Zack, we have two experienced players, who, I believe, have a good future with the National Team.”
Now 19, Acosta has noticed his game progress, something that his coaches at every level have also seen.
“I think I’ve come a long way,” Acosta admits. “The last two years, getting pro minutes in MLS has helped me and just playing at the international level, I think my level of play has gotten a lot stronger and a lot better.”
Now Ramos is counting on the holding midfielder to lead the U.S to a 14th FIFA World Youth Championship/FIFA U-20 World Cup berth.
“I believe that at the end of the day, he has to put this team on his shoulders and carry it,” Ramos said. “And he has to be the one on the field that gets us through the tough moments and that gets everybody settled. If I didn’t think Kellyn could do the job, I certainly wouldn’t have done it, but I truly believe that he’s the right person to do it.”
The U.S. begins group play against Guatemala on Jan. 9 at the National Stadium in Kingston. The match kicks off at 5:30 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on Fox Sports 2 and Univision Deportes. Fans can also follow on twitter at ussoccer.com_ynt.