This part of the soccer year always seems upside down in many ways. A big international tournament has likely just been played in June/July, and now the big European clubs are descending on the US to play in their annual marketing campaign/youth exhibition/training camp hybrid. The stars we’ve been used to seeing in all the late-May cup finals and following international tournaments are all on vacation, and the players we’re seeing are all the young phenoms we already know as legends in Football Manager.
This year has a certain organised chaos to it, with transfers everywhere & USMNT excitement bubbling under the surface. After a World Cup without the US, American fans are looking harder than ever to latch onto good news, and there’s no shortage. In addition to the usual sensationalism of every kind word from top clubs about an American player, Tim Weah scored his first goal for PSG, Christian Pulisic has found his footing on home soil, Chris Richards from FC Dallas is playing with Bayern Munich, Cameron Carter-Vickers is featuring for Spurs, and Josh Sargent is gearing up for his first season in the Bundesliga. These young Americans have, however, been recently upstaged by a neighbour to the north.
The biggest story in the North American soccer scene in the past couple weeks has been about Alphonso Davies. Canada’s 17-year-old wonderkid is set to move from the Vancouver Whitecaps to Bayern Munich at the end of the MLS season for a record setting deal worth up to $22 million. Davies hasn’t exactly been under the radar, he scored three goals at the Gold Cup last summer, and has been leaving grown men on the ground for a couple of years now, but the news has sent a tremor through MLS. As Taylor Twellman mentioned, in retrospect this will likely be a watershed moment in MLS history, showing the world that MLS can produce top players.
The massive transfer has somewhat overshadowed another transfer of an MLS homegrown, one which provides an interesting contrast with Alphonso Davies. Kellyn Acosta has moved from FC Dallas to Colorado Rapids for Dominique Badji, a draft pick, an international slot, and a guarantee to part of a future Acosta transfer fee through 2020. Yeah. That’s all. When the news came out, I was as shocked as everybody else. Kellyn Acosta, lauded as the best homegrown from one of the best academies in the league, who a year ago scored a free kick for the USMNT, went 90 in a World Cup qualifier at the Azteca in a 1-1 draw, won the Gold Cup, and was being anointed the next great box-to-box midfielder in US soccer, was now going to one of the worst teams in the league for, let’s face it, not that much in return. Has his value declined that much in a year?
Taking a deeper look, the move makes more sense than we might think. Acosta needs to be seen as more than just a homegrown “kid.” Being in a new environment, away from where he’s lived all his life might be what he needs to start a new chapter and show how good he can be. It also makes sense for Dallas. The FC Dallas technical director mentioned last summer that there had been teams taking notice of the young midfielder, Acosta himself mentioned that there had been interest, and that it had always been his dream to play in Europe. The anticipation built and built, but in the end….nothing happened. The club president Dan Hunt reported that there were no offers for Acosta. So he stayed. Acosta was at peak value, but nobody moved, and when you stop moving up, there’s only one way to go from there. Since then he had the massive let down of being on the field when the US lost to Trinidad & Tobago. It’s just one game, but the psychological effects must be devastating. One minute you’re thinking about potentially being a starting center mid for your country at the World Cup and the next you feel partially responsible for failing to qualify for the first time since 1986. He also went through injury troubles and in the 2018 season had just been outright struggling for minutes.
Contrasting the two young players, Acosta and Davies, shows the often unseen burden of expectations. Davies had expectations, sure, but Canada had nothing to lose. They don’t qualify for World Cups and they don’t produce great players. If Davies didn’t pan out, who cares? He was never supposed to. Acosta was the product of FC Dallas, the shining star of American youth academies, a glimpse of what was to come, qualifying for the World Cup was already the bottom line. Below that meant a step into decline, it was symbolically and literally a step down into definitive failure.
Davies plays like he’s truly free, unburdened by expectations or a collective national hope. If you need any more evidence of how free he looks on the field, just look at his last two performances, against DC United and especially against Minnesota United where he scored twice and had a hand in all four of his team’s goals.
Although Acosta has been in a frustrating soccer limbo, he scored in his first game with his new team. Hopefully, his new legacy can start now, he can stretch his legs, find that stride that originally gave us so much hope, and the last year in the life of Kellyn Acosta can be tucked away into the corner of his mind, only ever serving as a reminder not to be burdened by other people’s expectations of himself.
Written by Ryan Mason – (@RyanFMason)