Los Angeles FC’s Kellyn Acosta, the first Japanese American soccer player to play for the U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT), made his phenomenal World Cup debut in Qatar on Monday.
The 27-year-old midfielder saved the U.S. team with a clutch foul that prevented his LAFC teammate and Wales player Gareth Bale from scoring the winning goal. Through Acosta’s last-ditch effort, the match ended in a 1-1 draw between the two clubs.
Before making the national team’s final roster, Acosta talked about his Japanese roots during an interview with MLS in May.
“My Japanese background comes from my dad’s side of the family. My dad is actually half Japanese,” Acosta shared. “He was born in Japan. His first language is Japanese.”
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According to the athlete, his father immigrated to the U.S. at age 10. While he noted that his background was different since he was born and raised in the U.S., he acknowledged his ties to Japan.
“I’m African-American, I have Japanese roots, I even have some Hispanic roots in my extended family,” Acosta explained. “So I’m a special case where I can relate to all groups of people. But I think when we all come together and unite around our diversity, it’s special and what makes us unique as a league and a team.”
Acosta noted that being on the USMNT meant that he represented “a lot more than just my country and the last name on the back of my jersey. I’m representing Black Americans, I’m representing Asian Americans and that’s a special thing.”
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In a video profile posted by the U.S. soccer team on YouTube, Acosta also shared the unique perspective he had growing up.
“I always got some mixed emotions and mixed looks based on my family but I mean I love it,” Acosta said. “I mean it’s always cool to kind of open people’s eyes and be like, you know, visually this is what I look like but I’m more than that.”
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This is not the first time Acosta has played for the American flag, as he has repeatedly represented the country in different international tournaments.
In his younger years, he was part of the U.S. team that competed in the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup. He also was the youngest member of the U.S. squad at the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup and rejoined the team two years later at the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup.
Acosta made his senior international debut in 2016 as part of the U.S. team that competed in a friendly match against Iceland.
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The USMNT is set to face England in the tournament on Black Friday.
Featured Image via U.S. Soccer