DOHA, Qatar — Midfielder Kellyn Acosta said he and his United States teammates will need to get physical to stop his LAFC colleague Gareth Bale when they open their 2022 World Cup campaign against Wales next week.
Acosta has been besieged with questions about Bale since the Welsh superstar’s dramatic header saved LAFC from an extra-time defeat to the Philadelphia Union in MLS Cup earlier this month and sent the title game to penalties and an eventual win for the Los Angeles side.
With the U.S. set to face Bale and, presumably, the rest of Wales’ starting lineup in their World Cup opener on Monday, Acosta understands the fixation.
“I feel like that’s the question of the day, right?” Acosta said Tuesday. “Special players make special plays and he’s a guy you definitely have to be worried about.”
Injuries limited Bale’s game action after his mid-season move to MLS, but Acosta still built a strong rapport with Bale, and they joked often about facing each other in the World Cup following the tournament draw.
Even more, Acosta believes he’s developed an understanding on how Bale likes to play and, by extension, how the U.S. might best try to stop him. The short version? Be physical.
“He’s a specimen,” Acosta said, making clear he thinks Bale’s unique combination of skill and size still makes him an intimidating weapon despite the fact he’s nearing the end of his career.
“He’s a guy that we know to have eyes 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. can’t do that, Acosta added, Bale will be able to impose himself on the game.
“Let him be 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 delivered LAFC some magic in the dying moments of MLS Cup.
Acosta said he knew what was coming as soon as he saw the cross floating toward Bale — “I was like, ‘He’s going to dunk on him,'” Acosta remembered — and the emotions of that entire day are something Acosta will never forget.
Now, though, Bale is on the other side. And even though a series of nagging injuries led to speculation Bale might be limited in the World Cup, Acosta isn’t swayed. Bale himself has said he’s ready to play 90 minutes, and Acosta believes the U.S. needs to be ready for his teammate’s best.
“Seeing how he moves around and sees the game?” Acosta said. “He’s still Gareth Bale.”
With games against Euro 2020 finalists England as well as Iran to come in Group B, both the U.S. and Wales are aware of how crucial that opening game could be to their chances of making the knockout stages in Qatar.
“I think on paper we have the hardest group in the World Cup so yeah, it’s going to be a difficult game for both teams,” Bale said Monday.
“I’m sure both teams are fully in the mindset that they can win the game so yeah, it’s going to be a difficult game like I said.
“Every team that’s qualified is there for a reason, they’ve qualified on merit and every game’s going to be difficult. We’re prepared for that mentally, physically, and we’ll be doing as much planning as we can for every team to give us the best chance of winning.”