SANFORD, Fla. — Orlando City left back Danilo Acosta’s goal is to approach each day with a smile.
He’s a music lover. He’s a Gryffindor, a group featured in the eight Harry Potter movies he’s watched again since moving to Orlando. He’s someone looking to learn from past mistakes.
“Every morning, it’s a day to be happy, you know?” he said during an interview with Pro Soccer USA at Sylvan Lake Park.
“You’ve got to thank God. You’ve got to thank God that you’re alive. Every day is a new opportunity to get better. That’s kind of like my motto. That’s how I go into it.”
Acosta, 21, is one of many additions that were made to Orlando City’s roster since the end of a disastrous 2018 campaign. He was acquired from Real Salt Lake on loan with an option to make the transfer permanent, giving a fresh start to a talented, national team-caliber player.
Acosta is eager to deliver for the Lions. He spent the early part of last season on the bench, with the Salt Lake Tribune reporting there were concerns about Acosta’s attitude after a January 2018 United States men’s national team camp – his first senior national team call-up.
“Anyone can think what they want to think about me,” Acosta said. “But, at the end of the day, if I know myself well and if I know who I am, if I’m know I’m this guy and if they’re saying that, it doesn’t bother me.
“I’ll be honest, I just let it slip. They can say one thing, but I know myself and the people around me know who I am. Whatever they want to say they can say, but it doesn’t bother me whatsoever.”
He said being benched last season impacted him because he wanted to be there for his teammates on the pitch. He made 12 appearances for Real Salt Lake with 10 starts in league play last season.
Now, for 2019, it’s “new year, new me,” he said. This season will be his fourth in MLS.
“I think each year it’s a brand new lesson; you take from the past year,” Acosta said. “Last year was a difficult year for me. It didn’t go the way we planned. I took the positives and the negatives from it and now this is a brand new year.
“I think I feel so much better, overall, mentally and physically-wise. I’m in a better position and, so far, everything’s been really good. Hopefully it stays like that.”
He has his sights set on a return to the U.S. men’s national team, as long as he’s performing well for the Lions. He said as of Monday, he hasn’t been recently contacted by USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter.
“That’s the plan, to get back in,” Acosta said. “The only way that I will go back in is if I’m doing really good in the club. If I’m doing really good with the club, playing really well for the team and all that … they’ll see it, they’ll recognize it and at the end of the day, it’ll pay off.
“Even if it doesn’t, I’ll just continue doing what I’m doing. First and foremost, the club comes first. As long as I’m doing good with the club and they see it, and then they call me up, then I’ll take advantage of the opportunity. It would be my second time. You always learn from your first one. Hopefully the second one is better.”
Orlando City head coach James O’Connor wants to help Acosta get back to the national team. Acosta said his new coach has been relentless in preseason training in order to help him adapt to a new style of play.
“He’s known as an intense individual, but he’s also a good coach off the field,” Acosta said. “He’s a good coach on the field, but off the field, he’s an even greater person. He was a player, just like we were. He knows the difficulties we go through sometimes and all that. He’s always there for you, no matter what.”
Acosta said when he first learned he was coming to Orlando City he and O’Connor had a 30-minute video call. They swapped ideas and got to know each other. O’Connor has taken the time to do that with every player, Acosta said.
“It gives you confidence, I’ll say,” Acosta said. “It gives you a lot of confidence, because knowing your coach has your back and knowing that he’s there, no matter what, he’s going to support you, whatever mistakes you make. … Having that, the only way you can pay him back is by giving everything you’ve got in practice and in the games.
“I think every guy sees it like that. I feel like when you have a coach like that, you want to play for him. You want to give your best, no matter what. That helps you out. That helps you individually, but also collectively, as a team.”
O’Connor said building that kind of a relationship comes down to honesty. Sometimes that honesty is brutal, but it’s necessary.
“I believe that he’s good enough to go on and play with the national team,” O’Connor said about Acosta. “I know he’s had a glimmer of it. A touch of it, if you like. My hope is that we can work together, and we can tweak some things and get him firing.”
Acosta was a starter during Orlando City’s 2-1 preseason victory over NYCFC and he was heavily involved in the Lions’ attack.
“I feel like in the preseason game against New York, he was excellent,” O’Connor said. “I feel like performances like that on a consistent basis will give him an opportunity to maybe try to break into the national team. We’re serious about trying to help the players on a personal level, as well as a team level.”
So now the regular season looms. Orlando City takes on NYCFC on Saturday, and after a grueling preseason, Acosta is ready to start playing in games that matter.
“It’s been a Hunger Games-type of thing, you know?” Acosta said with a smile, referencing the popular trilogy. “You train, you know you’re going to the Hunger Games and all that.
“And the games are finally going to start going on. Now, all the little things we’ve been doing in preseason, put them all together and hopefully we’ll have a really good year, which I think we will.”