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LAFC 2022 Player Postmortem: Kellyn Acosta

The quietest star on a star-studded team.

MLS: MLS Cup Championship-Philadelphia Union vs Los Angeles FC Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Chances are, if I asked you who the key players were in LAFC winning the double in 2022, Kellyn Acosta wouldn’t be in the first five names most would list. He may not even be in the first 10. But when you think about what he did on the season, his impact was tremendous.

It started with Acosta being traded to LAFC from the Colorado Rapids in the offseason, about six months after Mark-Anthony Kaye had gotten traded the other direction. Kaye had become a scapegoat among LAFC fans, unfairly in my opinion, but it still seemed a bit like shuffling deck chairs to dump Kaye and then pick up Acosta. Their games aren’t identical, but there’s a lot of similarities there — two-way midfielders who can play fullback at a pretty high level in a pinch, but still contribute with the occasional goal or three in a season.

At any rate, Acosta was part of LAFC’s offseason makeover to get more MLS experience, joining the likes of Ilie Sanchez, Maxime Crepeau, Ryan Hollingshead, and Franco Escobar, among others. That, coupled with a coaching change, a return to form for several players and a few midseason signings that pushed them over the top, landed LAFC the domestic double, and Acosta was at the center of proceedings throughout.

Here are Acosta’s competitive stats with LAFC in 2022:

Kellyn Acosta LAFC 2022 Statistics

2022 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
2022 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
Regular Season 32 28 2,549 2 5 32 9 8 0
U.S. Open Cup 3 1 116 0 1 2 0 1 0
Playoffs 3 3 270 1 0 5 1 0 0
Total 38 32 2,935 3 6 39 10 9 0

Midfielders often play a subtle game, but I think the reason why Acosta doesn’t draw major plaudits is because his game is subtle in a way we don’t really pay attention to unless we’re focused on it. If his team played a midfield diamond, Acosta can play as the No. 10 at the top of the diamond, but he seems to have settled into the “shuttler” role on the sides. Shuttlers and those who play a similar role on non-diamond midfields may have the most subtle game of all — they get the ball, they make the quick pass to progress the ball, they find the space and wait for their next chance to repeat the steps. It sounds basic, but it’s not. A replacement-level player at that role will progress the ball at times, but they’ll also turn the ball over plenty and make the wrong pass a lot. Acosta doesn’t do that, he gets the ball, he passes the ball, it keeps ticking over. Not to compare him to a Galaxy player, but the other MLS midfielder who does this role about as well is Mark Delgado, whose game has acted like a “connective tissue” for all the other parts of the midfield, and team. Acosta’s role with LAFC in 2022 was similar, and because he was doing the quiet stuff at a high level, that allowed the more noticeable games of Sanchez and Jose Cifuentes to shine.

The advanced stats tell contrasting stories with Acosta’s individual performance. Somewhat surprisingly, he registered a -0.67 Goals-added mark according to ASA. But his FBref.com scouting report graph showed that while defense is not his strong suit, he was quite effective overall in the attacking and ball-handling categories.

FBref.com

Acosta had a few goals and they were all memorable. Probably the biggest was his goal to open the scoring in the unbelievably entertaining MLS Cup Final.

Maybe a little fortunate on the deflection there, but a goal’s a goal, especially in a final.

After the Supporters’ Shield-MLS Cup triumph, Acosta had a busy end to his year, as he was part of the U.S. Men’s National Team at the World Cup in Qatar, making two appearances off the bench in the tournament. His most memorable moment there was fouling club teammate Gareth Bale to prevent a golazo in the dying moments of the draw against Wales — had Bale scored there the U.S. would not have qualified for the knockout round.

LAFC, unsurprisingly, exercised their contract option on Acosta for the 2023 season. Acosta has been linked to a move to Europe ever since he broke through with FC Dallas as a teenager, even as recently as this year, but at 27, I’m not sure what the market is for him abroad. That’s not to say that he can’t find a team in Europe and play there, he absolutely can. But the economics of transfers means that a player of Acosta’s age is unlikely to garner a transfer fee for a first move abroad. It’s not impossible, but he would have much better prospects of signing in Europe if he was on a free. It’s possible he and LAFC had the option so he could decide if he wanted to set out for Europe in 2023 or not, but ultimately, decided the option to remain in MLS and continue to establish himself here was just fine.

So expect Acosta back for 2023, and for a versatile player who does the little things at a high level to allow his teammates to shine, while also being a World Cup player himself, it’s a good thing for a team to have. Given all the competitions LAFC will be involved in next year, if he stays healthy he’ll likely be a central figure — if one perhaps under the radar in general — again.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.