Throughout the history of soccer, the No 10 shirt has carried a huge amount of prestige, but also a sense of expectation from those wearing the shirt.
This is something which one of the USA’s most promising young playmakers, George Acosta, will have to deal with if he’s to make it to the top level of the game, especially given the country in which he’s currently playing.
Think of what it means to be a No.10, and there are images of wandering playmakers, free spirits, and players on a different plane to the rest of us.
It is perhaps more revered in Argentina than any other country thanks to the two greatest soccer players the world has ever seen – Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi – both of whom donned the number for club and country.
They even gave it a special name — the enganche — which roughly translates in this context as hitch or connector, describing the player who links everything together in attack.
Though Maradona and Messi are the most obvious examples, perhaps the purest example of an enganche is Boca Juniors legend Juan Román Riquelme.
It is, therefore, fascinating that one of the most promising rising stars in the USMNT pool is a No.10 playing for none other than Boca Juniors or, at least for now, their second string. It’s almost unbelievable the US could soon have a player wearing the famous blue and gold with the No.10 on his back, but this could be the next step in the career of George Acosta.
Due to a number of registration problems young American players have had in Europe in recent years, Colombian-born Arturo Costa decided to pursue an alternative route for his son. This took them to Estudiantes de La Plata, just outside Buenos Aires, Argentina.
According to a report in the New York Times, Acosta was “training in Estudiantes’ youth system but playing for a semi-affiliated ‘second team’, which did not require him to have a FIFA-approved registration.”
It’s for this reason Estudiantes will not appear on the player’s official club history, which is more likely to state Weston FC and North Carolina FC as his youth clubs, but one under-15 training camp announcement back in 2015 lists the Argentine outfit as his club.
Acosta started playing soccer at a very young age and, after that stint training with Estudiantes, at the age of 15 he moved to Weston FC, close to his hometown of Hollywood, just outside Miami.
There was interest from German club RB Leipzig, Banfield of Argentina, as well as Seattle Sounders, but his next move took him to North Carolina FC on July 7, 2017. According to this, he played three games for the club, scoring one goal, and you get the impression this was a temporary training ground before making what would be the biggest decision in his young career: where to turn pro.
He had trials for other clubs, including Real Mallorca, but in the end decided to return to Argentina, signing for Boca Juniors in April 2018.
"When I arrived, I knew very little Spanish," he said in a recent interview. "I learned the language in Argentina talking with my colleagues in the boarding house. Now I even drink maté."
Acosta began with the club’s youth sides and is now with the reserves, one of only two non-Argentines in the squad along with Chilean forward Brandon Cortés.
"My coach, Sergio Saturno, asks me to create chances for my team-mates and look for goal," he said. "I feel very proud to wear the 10 for a team like Boca."
As has been the case with the other players yet to make a senior appearance, stats are difficult to come by, and meaningful ones even more so. But there are some available from his time with the US Under-17 side
Using a combination of the stats from his games in the CONCACAF Under-17 Championship in April and May of 2017, and the Under-17 World Cup in October of the same year, we can begin to get an idea of what type of player he is.
He managed three assists and one goal in this game, playing in attacking midfield positions, but not necessarily in the centre.
Acosta averaged 2.72 shots per game, and a pass success of 87 per cent which is good for a more advanced midfielder. His long passing accuracy comes in at 78 per cent, and he attempted 3.84 dribbles per game with a reasonably good success rate of 56 per cent.
On average, Acosta managed 2.88 key passes per game, 12 passes into the final third, and four through-balls.
He rarely touched the ball in the opposition box with an average of just 1.68 per game in this area.
Defensively he was making around two interceptions per game, regularly winning the ball back in the opposition half, which suggests an ability to press.
Those numbers paint a picture of a player who is lively in midfield, winning the ball back and spraying short passes to team-mates in the form of through balls and layoffs. But rather than dwell on the small amount of data, let’s look at him in action.
The first thing that catches the eye with Acosta is his balance and body movement. He can beat a man before he’s even received the ball and uses the shape of his body to receive the ball in an advantageous position, making it easier for him to move the ball onto a better area of the pitch.
He is good at playing passes over the top of a defence, whether from a dead-ball situation or in open play, and also has good awareness of runners in front or behind him allowing him to play nice through balls along the deck.
Acosta is also a set-piece taker, but at the moment he appears to be more effective with crossing and long passing than he does shooting directly from free-kicks, though this could be added to his arsenal further down the line.
Primarily right-footed, he doesn’t appear to be too keen on using his left unless he has to. He can beat a defender with a trick and has the acceleration to get past them initially, though probably not the speed over long distances to break behind the lines in a foot race.
Acosta's skill set suggests he will be able to play as the central attacking midfielder in a 4-2-3-1, or as the more advanced of a midfield three in a 4-3-3.
There are a lot of the usual skills you’d expect from a playmaker: Good control, neat passing, and comfortable technique, but his vision, awareness and balance which make him stand out from the other players in his age group.
International - USMNT
As already alluded to, Acosta was part of the USA Under-17 side which qualified for the World Cup in 2017 on the back of the CONCACAF Under-17 Championships in which they reached the final, only to be defeated by Mexico on penalties.
He made just two appearances at said World Cup, scoring the goal in a 3-1 defeat against Colombia and assisting another in a 3-1 win against India — both in the group stage. The US were knocked out by England at the quarter-final stage.
Acosta had also been a regular un under-15 camps, and was part of the team which won the Montaigu Tournament in 2016. He finished up top scorer with six goals from three games.
While Acosta is some way off selection for the senior side, he should now be ready to take the next step up to the under-20s where he will be able to further showcase his skills on the international stage.
For now, he should focus on getting in Boca Juniors' first team, and has already made a good step towards this by moving up from the youth sides to the reserves.
Should he begin to appear in match day squads for Boca it will be difficult for USMNT selectors at any level to ignore him.
There is an Under-20 World Cup just around the corner, and depending on who is retained from last year’s CONCACAF Under-20 Championship, space could open up for Acosta who turned 19 this year.
The US have a good blend of different types of talented young players coming through, but given the club he plays for and his style of play, Acosta could be the most unique, and if everything goes to plan, one of the most important.
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