Over the years, Kellyn Acosta desperately wanted to fit in. However, the midfielder for the Los Angeles F.C., a Major League Soccer club, realized that being different made him who he was.
This past year in Qatar at the World Cup, Acosta became the first Asian American, and the first Japanese American, to play on the United States national team. Acosta said he mainly identifies as African American and Asian American.
“I think just being the first in anything is a huge accomplishment and something that I wear with a lot of responsibility,” Acosta told the Nichi Bei News in a phone interview. He added he hopes to set an example for people to look up to.
Acosta added he represented the U.S. because “I feel super welcomed and I think it’s just one of those things where it could go either way.” He considered representing Japan in the World Cup also. His grandmother is full Japanese and his father was born in Japan, according to his The Players’ Tribune article from last May.
Netherlands eliminated the U.S. Men’s National Team in the World Cup in round 16. The World Cup ran from Nov. 20 to Dec. 18, 2022.
Acosta credits his grandparents, who immigrated to the U.S., for “introduc(ing) me to the game.” Growing up, the 27-year-old said he admired retired Brazilian soccer star, Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, or commonly known as Ronaldinho. He loved Ronaldinho’s “passion” and “he just brought so much joy to the game and that’s what really made me fall in love with the game.”
Acosta considered his dad and his youth coach, Coach Zequinha or Coach “Zee” as role models when he was growing up. He said he looked at the late José Ferreira Franco or Zequinha, a Brazilian professional soccer player, “as a father figure.” He stayed the night at his house, with his family taking care of Acosta.
Soccer provided an outlet for Acosta, which gave him “structure.” The sport allowed him to become accustomed to different cultures because his teammates were from “all various backgrounds.” It also offered him freedom to “be who I am,” he added.
“Soccer really gave me this opportunity to obviously see different parts of the world, but also, see different parts of myself that I didn’t know (were) there,” Acosta remarked.
It took him a while to figure out his identity, but Acosta realized that “everyone comes from a background, that’s what makes them unique and special.” Acosta encourages people to embrace their family’s cultures.
Acosta offered some advice to multiethnic Asian American athletes struggling to balance their different identities.
“Just kind of embracing who you are and your interests, and let that be the driving force,” Acosta commented. He added, “don’t cower, don’t hide, but stand out.”
With the World Cup over, Acosta said typically there is an annual World Cup training camp in January, where players “come together and we train. We have a couple games.” He added players get together four or five times per year, 10 days for each gathering.
Nichi Bei News staff writer Derek Tahara is a Yonsei or fourth-generation Japanese American born and raised in Sunnyvale, Calif. He earned his B.S. in Journalism at the University of Oregon. He is a lifelong fan of the Golden State Warriors and San Francisco Giants.