DOHA, Qatar — Midfielder Kellyn Acosta said he and his United States teammates will have to split to stop LAFC counterpart Gareth Bale when they open their 2022 World Cup campaign against Wales next week.
Acosta has been beset by questions about Bale since the Welsh superstar’s dramatic header saved LAFC from an extra-time loss to Philadelphia Union in the MLS Cup earlier this month and sent the title game to penalties and eventual victory for the Los Angeles outfit.
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With the U.S. set to face Bale and, presumably, the rest of Wales’ starting line-up in Monday’s World Cup opener, Acosta understands the fixation.
“I feel like that’s the question of the day, don’t you?” Acosta said Tuesday. “Special players make special plays and he’s a guy you definitely have to be concerned about.”
Injuries limited Bale’s game after his mid-season move to MLS, but Acosta still built a strong relationship with Bale, and they often joked that they would face each other at the World Cup after the tournament draw.
Moreover, Acosta believes he has developed an understanding of how Bale likes to play and, consequently, how the U.S. might best try to stop him. Short version? Be physical.
“He’s a specimen,” Acosta said, making it clear he thinks Bale’s unique combination of skill and size still makes him a formidable weapon despite the fact he’s nearing the end of his career.
“He’s a guy we know we’ve got our eye on,” Acosta said. “We’ve got to literally start kicking him around the field a little bit. Make him feel us. Limit his time and space.”
If the U.S. fails to do so, Acosta added, Bale will be able to impose himself on the game.
“Make him comfortable [and] he can really hurt you,” Acosta said.
It was only a few weeks ago that Acosta was celebrating with Bale after the Welsh star came on as a substitute and provided LAFC with some magic in the dying moments of the MLS Cup.
Acosta said he knew what was coming as soon as he saw the cross float toward Bale — “I was like, ‘He’s going to nail it,'” Acosta recalled — and the emotions of that entire day are something Acosta will never forget.
Now, however, Bale is on the other side. And although a string of nagging injuries has led to speculation that Bale could be limited at the World Cup, Acosta is undeterred. Bale himself said he’s ready to play 90 minutes, and Acosta believes the U.S. needs to be ready for the best from his teammate.
“See how he moves and sees the game?” Acosta said. “He’s still Gareth Bale.”
With games against Euro 2020 finalists England and Iran set to enter Group B, both USA and Wales are aware of how crucial that opening game could be to their chances of reaching the knockout stages in Qatar.
“I think on paper we have the toughest group at the World Cup, so yes, it will be a tough game for both teams,” Bale said on Monday.
“I’m sure both teams are fully in the mindset that they can win, so yes, it will be a tough game as I said.
“Every team that qualified is there for a reason, they qualified on merit and every game will be tough. We are ready for it mentally, physically, and we will plan as much as we can for each team to give us the best chance to win.”