In This Episode
It’s a soccer themed episode of Takeline this week. Kellyn Acosta, midfielder for Los Angeles Football Club and United Stated Men’s National Team, comes on Takeline to discuss LAFC’s regular season success, preview the MLS playoffs and look forward to the World Cup. Then, we’re joined by Wall Street Journalists Josh Robinson and John Clegg, the co-authors of the new book “Messi vs. Ronaldo: One Rivalry, Two GOATs, and the Era That Remade the World’s Game,” a deep dive into the careers of the two football legends as their careers enter their respective twilights.
Ryan Wallerson I think the front office has a lot of work to do this offseason, but firing Roberts is not part of the solution. I don’t think that that’s addition by subtraction.
Zuri Irvin It would feel good for the cause or something. It would feel kind of good for a few months.
Jason Concepcion Hello and welcome back to Takeline. I’m your host, Jason Concepcion. We’ve got a great soccer themed show for you today. The footy is is wonderful right now. It’s been a while since we’ve had an active pro on the pod, but that’s against today. With the addition of Kellyn Acosta, midfielder for L.A. FC and the U.S. Men’s National Team, he will join us to discuss of Lafc’s regular season success and preview Lafc’s entry into the into the playoffs after a first round buy. They play the Galaxy. This Thursday, el Trafico is on Los Angeles. Soccer fans are very nervous right now because I think that L.A. fans would rather lose to Nashville than lose to the Galaxy. But it’ll be it’s exciting. It should be exciting. And then we’ll be joined by Wall Street Journal reporters Josh Robinson and John Clegg, the coauthors of the new book Messi versus Ronaldo. Which is a deep dove into the careers of two of the iconic players in world sports over the last 15 years and how they transition into their respective Twilights. Dodgers out. Mets out. Braves out. The Yankees clinging for their lives to life. What does this mean? What does this mean for baseball? After recent tweaks to the playoff format. Is the playoff format broken? Should we be concerned that the best teams in baseball are on the way out of the of the playoffs or gone or not here? What does this mean? Is this just luck? Joining me now are super producers Ryan and Zuri to unpack yet another Dodgers collapse and try to figure out like what the what exactly what is what is going on here. The L.A. Times published a in an opinion piece. I think it was like either the morning that the Dodgers were later eliminated or the day before, that was like an argument for the Dodgers just being able to advance because, you know, they were in first place by miles, you know, miles ahead of every other team. And now here they are. They’re out. It’s interesting to be talking about this. I don’t know necessarily where I stand. My my instinctive reaction is quit whining. This is it’s the playoffs. It’s it’s random sometimes. And this is what happens, especially with with wild cards and five game series and things of that nature. That said. These were like really great teams that are not in the playoffs anymore. What is going on? Your thoughts and how are you doing this week? This Monday morning after your Dodgers have been eliminated over the weekend?
Zuri Irvin Well, I mean, I’m a little disappointed in, you know, the things we did just advance. We did also not play in the wildcard division. So that actually does happen. We were talking off air that this is like kind of par for the course for Dave Roberts. And this could have happened in an LC as this could have happened really in any round. But I don’t know. I see it both ways. Like if you do 111 games, you get the bye and you should be a team that’s good enough to handle a wild card team that advances. But on the flip side, I was just doing like some quick math on this. And the NFL playoffs is probably the standard that we adhere to is like, Oh, they’ve got it right. They play 17 games in the NFL season and it’s a single game elimination. So that one game represents about 6% of your season. Quick math, one divided by 17. Yeah. Yeah. The divisional round of the Major League Baseball playoffs is five games, so five out of hundred and 62 is 3% of your season. So for shredding, for equity, maybe it should be like a nine game series in the divisional round. I mean, we just play three nine game series and when the best team would, it would be hard to argue that the best team doesn’t win a nine game series. But well, in hindsight.
Ryan Wallerson That would make the World Series a battle of attrition every year.
Jason Concepcion Well, I guess this is. Here’s my here’s my question. And this is really what it comes down to. Right. Are we looking to incentivize the best team to advance, or are we looking for entertainment value for for management, for an introduction of some amount of randomness that makes this event watchable? You know, it’s like over in the EPL. Whoever accrues the most points wins, period. There’s no there’s no playoffs. It’s just the regular season matters. Now, the upside of that is you really feel like you earned a win when your team wins. The downside of that is there are teams that just know for a fact they’re not going to sniff it. There’s not a chance in in hell unless, you know, a team’s plane crashes or st like really would be like sorry. It would take like several like devastating plane crashes of multiple teams for a team to like have a chance at that championship. And now, is that what you want? Now, I guess I don’t know the answer to this.
Ryan Wallerson Well, we definitely don’t want to prone of the plane.
Jason Concepcion No, we don’t want that.
Ryan Wallerson Crashes. So, you know, the the bad teams stay bad and fight against relegation. That is their purpose and their fate. But in terms of the American playoff system, it’s never going to go away. New sports that we’re implementing now have their own budding playoff systems because there’s just no shot of trying to get this audience to get behind a regular season and done type format at the top level. Like, I just don’t think you’d be accepted one by the fans and two by the owners because you’re leaving so much money on the table in terms of what playoffs do. So I think nine games is crazy. Okay. Why do you play 162 if you can’t play nine? I mean, like, this is how it works. I think that the excitement of the one game wild card was the perfect amount of chaos. I think that it gave the underdog just as much of a chance to do what’s been done now. But some something about the three game playoff to me just bothers me in terms of a team that wins 100 games, having to win an entire series worth of games, which is just two games. I get it. But it should be just one and done with your best pitcher and you can move on to the next round I think.
Zuri Irvin That’s definitely the most exciting and I think there’s converging thoughts because on one hand you want teams that want to fewer games to have a tougher path to winning a championship. I think that’s like the bottom line. But then you also want excitement in the playoffs. So how do you how do you balance those two? There was a game over the weekend. The Mariners game, they point 18 innings and there was no run through 17 innings. And I don’t know how exciting that is to watch.
Jason Concepcion It was not it was not exciting.
Ryan Wallerson But it was great news for Yankees slash Guardian fans because the Astros are exhausted. So that’s cool.
Jason Concepcion Well, this is small sample size, right? This is the first playoffs where a lot of these tweaks have been implemented. Yeah. Are we jumping to conclusions? Like, you know, one of the things that strikes me about this conversation is if the Braves were still in the playoffs, we wouldn’t really be talking about this because the Mets choke like historically they’ve done this, the Dodgers do this. The Dodgers also disappoint consistently. And, you know, there’s some asterisks in there, including their their confrontation with the then heavily cheating Houston Astros several years ago. But but it’s not necessarily a surprise when the Dodgers come up short. But it’s it’s the addition of the Braves to this that makes you think, hmm. Is there something to it? And I guess I wonder, are we just making too much of this?
Zuri Irvin Perhaps? Yeah. I mean, these are big markets I went down to and there’s like the TV contract stuff that I don’t think fans should even worry about, but that’s a part of it. And like, also, like, do you want Chuck, do you want the number one seeds to all advance? We see that in some other sports, and it’s not exactly the most appetizing thing to watch. So, you know, as a Dodger fan, I don’t like this, but like it like there are some like these like up and coming franchises that are winning. And in general, that’s good. Parody is good, right?
Ryan Wallerson Well, you know, it’s interesting. It’s two different discussions, though, right? Because like, it’s the teams that were able to get into the playoffs, upsetting teams in the first round.
Zuri Irvin Uh huh.
Ryan Wallerson But, you know, the number one seed still has to play the four division series. And one might even argue that the Dodgers were given a break when the what how how many wins did the Padres have?
Zuri Irvin Like 89.
Jason Concepcion Yeah.
Ryan Wallerson And and they didn’t and they defeated 101 win Mets team.
Zuri Irvin Right.
Ryan Wallerson Right. So I don’t know it’s a it’s interesting on paper before that series began that looked like a cakewalk to the NLCS. I think that’s like the take away from me. It’s just like I’m not sure how the Dodgers lost that series.
Jason Concepcion Zuri, I remember after game one, I’m watching baseball tonight and it’s like Papi and Pedro are like, here it goes again the Dodgers. Just a.
Zuri Irvin Papis. Yeah.
Jason Concepcion Yeah, the Dodgers just own the Padres. They’re their daddies. Yeah. You just knew it was going to happen. You felt it. You knew it the whole time. There was never a and I was like, well, this is a little too strident. Were you concerned at that moment?
Zuri Irvin No.
Ryan Wallerson There was no reason to be.
Zuri Irvin I was drinking the water. Even after game two, I think you asked me if I was concerned. I was like, we’ll take it this weekend. I think the thing I think about now, though, is we have too many players on this team that have won championships. And I think when when you’re making a playoff push, you need a lot of hungry guys, hungry.
Jason Concepcion You need hunger.
Zuri Irvin And I think that’s the through line. Even like Bryce Harper of the Phillies, he’s never won one. We’ve got like we you know, we have guys that have won Big Mookie’s won with us and he’s won with Boston. And and we’ve got all these guys that just.
Ryan Wallerson I mean, but Freddy just won.
Zuri Irvin Freddy just won.
Ryan Wallerson And just got there.
Zuri Irvin Trey won with Washington.
Ryan Wallerson You should remember that hunger though.
Zuri Irvin Yeah, I don’t know if you can recreate it when it’s when it’s not natural.
Jason Concepcion It seems like Dave Roberts is going to be back.
Zuri Irvin Yeah.
Jason Concepcion That said, and I don’t think that he is necessarily the problem. I don’t think firing him necessarily changes anything. But I. I must maybe it’s just because I’m here in L.A.. I have never felt Dodgers fans this frustrated. And like they’re I think it’s something about banishing the kind of, you know, bubble, championship asterisk and and and yet and on top of that, yet another frustrating elimination from the playoffs. And it just feels like at some point like somebody needs to is somebody needs to like get fired for this.
Zuri Irvin Well, it’s it’s not going to be. FRIEDMAN So who’s next? Who’s next down the line?
Ryan Wallerson That feels like a scapegoat style solution because the man went 111 regular season games.
Jason Concepcion He did. He really did.
Ryan Wallerson Players win the playoffs. Like to not even make it to game five. I can’t put that on Roberts. I have to put that on the players on the field.
Jason Concepcion I don’t disagree. I mean, and the pitchers did their jobs. It was just the hitting didn’t show up.
Ryan Wallerson The lineup, agreed.
Zuri Irvin Honestly, it’s hard because, you know, 111 wins. I think we’ve won ten division titles, I think in a row. And so that’s also the other side of the coin is there’s all this all this success. And it doesn’t when it doesn’t come to fruition, it’s more frustrating and it’s hard. There’s a lot of guys that like, we have to turn the page on, like Justin Turner.
Jason Concepcion Yep.
Zuri Irvin Doesn’t have it anymore. Yeah.
Ryan Wallerson Now that’s. That’s what we need to talk about.
Zuri Irvin He’s getting beat on fastballs. Max Muncy is not a starting defensive infielder in the playoffs.
Ryan Wallerson You should not move forward with Joey Gallo as the part of your future and thats’s also a bad idea.
Zuri Irvin If you’re not going to play him, right? I imagine where the frustration is. It’s like, man, we’ve got all these guys that are like, you know, fan favorites that we do have to come to terms that, okay, this isn’t 2018, isn’t this isn’t they’re not they’re not five years younger than they actually are right now.
Ryan Wallerson I think the front office has a lot of work to do this offseason, but firing Roberts is not part of the solution. I don’t think that that’s addition by subtraction.
Zuri Irvin But it would feel good. It would feel for. That counts for something. It would feel kind of good for a few months.
Jason Concepcion He flat out guaranteed.
Zuri Irvin Yeah, he had. well, I don’t think blame him for that.
Jason Concepcion Guaranteed a World Series.
Zuri Irvin Yeah, ugh. I’m fine with that.
Ryan Wallerson But he did that before he won 111 games.
Zuri Irvin Yeah.
Ryan Wallerson So like he was walking the walk all year. So I feel like he put them in position and was like, No, I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t put this on Roberts. I put this on the hitters. He can’t hit for them.
Jason Concepcion I don’t disagree with you. And honestly, like in retrospect, that statement seems like to zero his point and attempt to paint a bunch of satisfied vets into a corner and make them fight their way out and say, okay, here’s the goal. I’ve laid it down. Are you good? Are we are we going to go for this or not?
Ryan Wallerson I mean, they responded, you know, if he’d said it, you know, a week ago, if he guaranteed it a week ago, then, then it would look terrible. Then I’d be like, you know, I get it. There’s a difference between a World Series winning team and a team that doesn’t even reach the championship series. So if he’d said that a week ago, I understand the frustration, but I’ve said it at the beginning of the season and then have the type of season that the Dodgers had. I feel like he backed that up. He did. And put them in a position to make him right. And if they’d won, that have been one of the greatest predictions of all time.
Zuri Irvin Yeah, well, let’s let Dave manage the regular season and then we’ll bring Ral Monacy back or take him up. So just like loaded, who can fail and let him manage the playoffs and then.
Jason Concepcion Is this the most frustrated you’ve been from a playoff elimination?
Zuri Irvin No, no. There’s so many. We played the Phillies in, like oh eight and and they beat theirs. And that’s their summer run in, like 2006. That eliminated us, the Cardinals. It’s like there’s a few inflection points that were way worse than this, especially because that’s when we were on our way to, you know, trying to win our first title since 88. I mean, to be honest, like after you win one, even though people say it’s a bubble championship, you do kind of rest on your laurels, like, okay, well, we have slayed the dragon.
Jason Concepcion Yeah.
Zuri Irvin So to speak. But it is antsy.
Ryan Wallerson I can speak to that. It lasts for a while. Like if there’s no asterisk next to it, I don’t,.
Jason Concepcion I don’t buy into the asterisk sports construction, particularly for pandemic stuff because like, the whole world was in an asterisk.
Ryan Wallerson Yeah.
Jason Concepcion It’s not like it was this weird blip that only pertained to sports. It was the entire globe was going through this thing.
Zuri Irvin Right.
Ryan Wallerson But I feel like that’s why every sport puts the it’s not the asterisk doesn’t denote like a weirdness within the league. It denotes that blip itself in time and what it did to respective seasons in terms of timing and format and location.
Jason Concepcion I would argue that it was harder. Like I would honestly argue that for the bubble championships and particularly for the NBA and the MLB, that it was harder. It was actually harder in terms of like rhythm, in terms of.
Zuri Irvin Not seeing your family.
Jason Concepcion Not seeing your family, being isolated, you know, like the energy is different. Like, I just I just feel like you can easily make an argument that it was harder, not easier.
Ryan Wallerson I know that Julius Randle would disagree with you because the second only of the best moments of his career in an empty Madison Square Garden. But the second that we came back, he turned back into a pumpkin.
Jason Concepcion Well, I.
Ryan Wallerson A pumpkin that he’s remained to this day.
Jason Concepcion A contract year is like super soldier serum. I mean, it’s amazing. It’s amazing the way he can motivate you. All right. Up next, Kellyn Acosta.
Jason Concepcion [AD].
Jason Concepcion Joining us now, midfielder for LAFC and for the U.S. men’s national team Kellyn Acosta. His first year with LAFC has been an action packed one. And of course the MLS play offs are ongoing, with LAFC looking to face their cross-town rivals, the LA Galaxy this Thursday. And that brings Kellyn Acosta on Takeline. Kellyn, thanks so much for joining us.
Kellyn Acosta Yeah, no problem at all. Thanks for having me.
Jason Concepcion Lots to discuss. But first, I’d love to hear about your evolution as a player. You kind of like broke through as a left back outside. Back. Now you’re playing in the midfield. Was that always the goal midfield? Like how how did you see yourself evolving as a player?
Kellyn Acosta Yeah, I mean, I’m a midfielder at heart. I mean, I honestly don’t like playing outside back all that much. But I mean, for me, I just wanted to be on the field. So I was like, That’s where the coach wants to put me. I’m going to put my best foot forward and give it all. I got it. Yeah. And hopefully perform well by midfield is someone who I play with, you know, at the club level, national team, youth national team. And I was hoping to my pro days, I was hoping to be a midfielder as well. So it’s been working out. So we’re going to back in the midfield. So I’m happy about it.
Jason Concepcion Versatility. It’s interesting. You know, there’s a lot of conversations lately about about players playing out of position because they’re versatile enough to do it. Do you feel like versatility weirdly like hurts you a little bit because it’s like you’ll be asked to do stuff that you can do but maybe you don’t necessarily want to do.
Kellyn Acosta Yeah, no, it’s definitely a blessing and a curse, right? Like I said, like I always want to be on the field to contribute, but I also want to play to my strengths and use the actions that I have to kind of just hone in on this one position and that I can elevate my game. It’s obviously it’s tough when, you know, one game you can play outside, back, another game you can be playing, you know, center may be attacking mid. So that’s obviously tough. But yeah, like I said, I mean I just want to be on the field, I want to play, I want to help contribute any which way possible. And I’m more focused on the overall success of the team. So that’s my that’s my main goal.
Jason Concepcion What’s your like when you think about your game? Like as a six, seven, eight, somewhere in there, what’s your ideal role?
Kellyn Acosta Yeah, for me, I’m kind of in betweener between a six and eight rather than a eight and a ten. I’m more like a defensive minded eight in a sense. So like if we were to play so depending on the formation because I mean like I’m good 1b1 defender cover a lot of ground. I mean, I can come in to attack and create things, but that’s not like my expertize per se. So I was more like a in between a six and eight.
Jason Concepcion We’re heading into as we’re recording this, we’re heading into the opening of playoff weekend for MLS, obviously LAFC with the bye and they’ve brought in so many players over the course of the last few months, including yourself. What’s that been like? The kind of culture of the team? It seems like it took a little time to gel, but now it is. What’s it been like with all these new players, including yourself, coming in?
Kellyn Acosta Yeah, I mean, I mean, credit to John and Co from the organization of creating this deep team, team of great players, of a lot of quality. I mean, I like to highlight the debt because I mean, every day is kind of a dogfight because we all want to play in. And that competitive edge is huge for us. And that’s that shows all the strength of the team and it shows on the field with our success and winning supporters. Sure. And now you mentioned, like the addition, not only myself and other other players, but it’s kind of just like a puzzle. We each are a piece in that puzzle and we kind of fit into the system, into the way that Steve wants to play and how the organization, you know, wants to produce. And yeah, I mean, like you said, I think Growing Pains, obviously, you’ve got to get accustomed to new players and new systems and different attributes and characteristics that everyone brings. But, you know, as the games went on, I think we’re starting to really understand each other and have that, you know, that those relationships on the field that are definitely needed and I think we are definitely clicking at the right time post season right now and you know, get all cylinders firing. Yeah, I mean, I think we have so much quality, but I mean, we can talk about what we’ve done in the past and how good we are, but it’s all about executing. Yeah. And you know, these games in the playoffs, I mean, it’s a different beast, different beast regular season. You don’t get a makeup game, you don’t get like, Oh, we got next week to correct this problem. It’s like it’s here now and the game is little details and there’s no margin for errors. And I think we have a very experienced group to really make a deep run playoffs and hopefully lift up the trophy in the end.
Jason Concepcion Was there a moment over the last few weeks or months where you thought you really felt like, oh, this is it’s happening now we’re beginning to click because, you know, this relationship is happening or we don’t need to you know, I can just off a look of one of my teammates understand that they want to do this. Exactly. Was there a moment like that?
Kellyn Acosta I can’t really pinpoint it. I think it just overall just coming into the locker room, you know, having that. CROMARTIE In the locker room, having like the banter, get everyone, you know, joyous and into it and joking around in a sense, but then getting on the field and just, you know, knowing each other’s tendencies, I think it is. Evolution over time. Just, you know, constant, constant things to kind of build our relationships has definitely been helpful. I think for me, what’s really highlighted the group is the adversity that that we face where we rode a lot of highs and and sometimes we got punched in the teeth. But I think just the resilience of the group, I think overall, I mean, we could have just folded, right? I mean, that was kind of everyone was kind of preying on our downfall, right? All see?
Jason Concepcion Yeah, they were.Yeah.
Kellyn Acosta This LAFC that. But it just shows the strength of the group that we still rolled up our sleeves and got it done. The supporters showed. And I think that’s a testament to my teammates and the staff because I think those signs of adversity is what’s going to help us grow and it’s going to help us in these tough matches.
Jason Concepcion Talk to us about the environment they’re going to be playing at home all throughout the playoffs. That’s huge. Talk to us about the feeling, the energy at home. It’s really a unique and a singular experience. Then home games at AFC, it’s it’s fantastic.
Kellyn Acosta Not definitely. It’s kind of just indescribable. I mean, 32, 32, that’s our energy are 12 men and women, right? We’re going on to the field just hearing them, you know, despite the result, they’re there for us. There are a heartbeat. And I know I’ve been on the other side of it for a few years and I just know how hard it is. You mean you’re talking about I want to catch my breath, but I can’t. I’m running and the fans are screaming at me. So I know what it’s like and what it feels like being on the other side of it. And then this year, having them just backing this and feeling their energy, feeling their passion, their support has gone such a long way. We always like highlight that we have no away games because our support is immense all over the country. Yeah. And that’s a testament to the environment that we’re in, the environment that 30 kids use established and it’s always exciting to be at home and that was a huge accomplishment for us, was to get that first seed so we can play, you know, a huge game at home with them backing us.
Jason Concepcion And the next few months there’s just it never stops. You know, we’re transitioning towards World Cup as well. How are you feeling as we move towards that? You’re a long tenured member of the U.S. men’s national team. What’s it like knowing we’re going into a World Cup here? This feels like the most talented, you know, honestly, one of the most talented, if not the most talented group I can remember seeing.
Kellyn Acosta Yeah. I mean, sometimes I just kind of have to pinch myself because this is a childhood dream that, you know, could soon be a reality for me. And, you know, it went from all the World Cup is coming to now it’s like a countdown. And it’s one of those things where it’s is it’s hard to describe because you’re like you’re trying to remain focused because we have huge assets handed out, but it’s like it’s coming. It’s coming. And so from my standpoint, my preparations to be present now. Yeah. And to one take every training and every game for what it is and give it my best effort and you know, grow and be in good form. And then hopefully at the end of this, hold up a trophy and, you know, use these games to help me establish myself on the national team so I could not only be selected for the World Cup team, but also play in it, like you mentioned that we do have we have a great team with great players that are, you know, paving the way through some top teams around the world. I mean, that’s a testament to those guys and their hard work and it just shows the growth of Americans in the sport. Yeah, and it’s definitely a proud feeling and I’m hoping that there will be more and more and it’ll just be something that’s normalized rather than like saying how crazy it is.
Jason Concepcion What’s it like from the inside, that perspective that you have seen the kind of growth not only of American talent, but of the kind of fan culture around soccer support like you to your point, you know, like there is a moment where it was like, oh, look how fun this is. This and this curious is in this cool. I think we’re definitely past that now. But what’s it been like to watch that grow?
Kellyn Acosta No, it’s definitely something special. I think the biggest thing for our sport is having guys that others find intriguing and cool and what better way of doing that is one winning two is playing good football on the field, and three having guys paved the ways overseas and abroad and being someone that someone looks up to. And I think guys have been doing that and I think the team collectively has been doing that and I think it’s been huge. It’s been great to see the growth. I mean, I’ve been in the league for, I don’t know, like ten years now. And to see that evolution over the years and from when I started to now, I mean, it’s made enormous strides and I think it’s truly amazing. And I think especially for the World Cup coming now, then in 2026, I mean, the it’s going to blow up. It’s going to blow up. And I’m hoping that we can continue on that front end of the one day. Soccer could be the biggest sport in the United States.
Jason Concepcion You mentioned. The importance of staying present. Right. You’ve got to buy right now. But of course, you know, come Thursday, it’s game time staying focused on task and training, etcetera, and not trying to look ahead too much. Do you have any techniques for doing that? You unplug. How do you just stay oriented on whatever’s right in front of you, not look ahead?
Kellyn Acosta Yeah, I mean, I think that’s just the bad of a footballer anyway. It’s I mean, we all have aspirations to achieve different things, but for us, you can’t get there without being here. And so it’s about laying the groundwork and having a strong foundation and building those steps to get to that point. So for me, it’s just a matter of the practice over the years that I’ve had to be here. And so for me, I mean, it’s it’s something that’s normal, something that I’ve done my whole career. And like I said, it’s about, you know, using these trainings and these games to be in good form, to show well and to hopefully be selected and hopefully from then on play.
Jason Concepcion When you were coming up, you know, under 18, under under 20 is under 21. If you could go back and talk to your younger self, you know, what would you tell yourself and what do you think that you would have as a younger player, knowing where your career would go, what do you think your reaction might have been?
Kellyn Acosta I could even tell you. I think I probably wouldn’t believe it. But I feel like when you’re, you know, coming through the youth national teams a u15, you’re like making the senior team so far away. And there’s so many steps and so much hard work and little things that go into it that there’s no way I get to this point. So I don’t have necessarily anything to kind of say to my younger self, but just enjoy the ride, enjoy, you know, the grind and enjoy the hardships and the triumphs. I mean, it’s all part of it. I think this game and life is all about learning experiences and my whole career is a testament to that. I mean, I’ve accomplished a lot of things, but I’ve also had a tremendous amount of downfalls and obstacles that obviously help me, you know, dig deep and learn a lot about myself. And I think when the obstacle has happened, when you triumph, then you get over that hump. It makes the victory so much more glorious, I would say. Yeah, and it’s just about just enjoying the ride and just continue going really.
Jason Concepcion When you were coming up, were there any players that you molded yourself after or, you know, bits of wisdom that you got from some of the played next to Michael Bradley, for instance? Like a lot of characters who I think people know. Is there any bit of wisdom they imparted from any of the various people that you’ve played with and stuck with you over the years?
Kellyn Acosta Yeah, I mean, I could go down the list. I mean, there’s so many different things that I could hold on to. I mean, starting from my youth coach, who I mean, who truly believed in me. And I mean, I got to credit him for helping me get to this point. Oscar Pareja as well, coach at FC Dallas, who kind of drew me in, took my game to the next level, and it’s taught me to be free and play free. And I think there’s been similar words with all the players that, you know, I got to this point for a reason, so why change them now? Enjoy the game, bring your attributes and play with confidence. I mean, playing alongside Michael Bradley, a guy that I admired for so many years and then kind of just playing next. It was kind of a surreal feeling. And I think the biggest thing was he knew about me before. I kind of like even could say anything. He knew my name. He knew like what I was doing, like my Ashley was. He kind of knew everything, which I was like, Wow, you pay attention to little me. And it kind of just gave me that sense of comfortability when I was coming into the national team. And I mean, a lot of those guys clans, the jerseys, Tim Howard’s Matt B’s there, Beasley, I mean there are so many guys that kind of just, you know, took me along and helped invite me into the team that just made me feel super comfortable. And you know, when you’re feeling comfortable, it helps you become confident and when your confidence games become a little bit easier. And so, I mean, I got to credit those guys for, you know, making me feel at home, make me feel comfortable, confident.
Jason Concepcion Looking ahead to the opening the playoffs. I’m not going to ask you who you want to face or anything. But like as you’re watching it, are you looking for little things? Like how do you approach? Do you just shut it out or do you kind of do you watch it as like a scouting exercise?
Kellyn Acosta I kind of do it as both. I mean, I love watching games. Yeah, I’m a student. The gamble, I’m always learning and I think it’s a combination of, you know, enjoying the game. But at the same time, you want to look at areas that we can exploit. And I mean, we face both teams, you know, a couple of times already this year got so few times, so we’re familiar with them as well. But yeah, I think it’s just a matter of things that that we can exploit means a quick turnaround. I mean, the game is Saturday, tomorrow, and then we’re already playing the following Thursday. Yeah. So it’s like it’s almost year and I mean our focus level, I mean, I mean Steve reiterated it but it was like it starts today and he was like, it’s today is today because their level of focus is super high because they’re playing a game tomorrow. And for us, like we got to match that with having this bio and training. So when that game comes Thursday, we’re ready to go with whoever we think.
Jason Concepcion Well, good luck to you. He is killing a Costa midfielder and for defending supporters shield champions LFC as well as a player for the US men’s national team. Kaplan, best of luck in everything.
Kellyn Acosta Appreciate you. Thank you so much.
Jason Concepcion [AD].
Jason Concepcion Messi and Ronaldo. Even if you don’t follow soccer slash football, you know who they are. They’ve dominated the world of sports for the better part of the last 20 years. Their rivalry was one that drew battle lines between fans, beat friends, between nations, between clubs, between sports apparel companies. To help us unpack this unprecedented and titanic clash of characters. Please welcome Wall Street journalists John Clegg and Josh Robinson to Takeline. They’ve published a book chronicling the rivalry between these two iconic athletes called Messi versus Rinaldo. Josh and John, welcome to Takeline. Josh, Jonathan, thanks for joining us to talk about Messi versus Ronaldo, one rivalry, two goats and the era that remade the world’s game. What was behind the idea for this? How did this idea come together? And then how did you work together? What was the synergy like in terms of writing it? I’ll start with you, Josh.
Josh Robinson So for us, you know, basically our entire careers as journalists have coincided with this Messi Ronaldo era and we’ve never not covered them. And now, as we could kind of see the end coming, we realized, you know, it’s time to start stepping back and figuring out what this all meant. What was this fever dream that we just went through for 15 years where we had not one but two of the greatest players of all time, all the time.
Jason Concepcion Jonathan?
John Clegg Yeah, that’s right. I think it was. You know, as we look back on the soccer era that we’ve covered, every sort of way that football had changed during that period seem to tie back to Messi and Ronaldo and the way that they had sort of transformed the entire sport, that their sort of stardom had really sort of realigned European soccer and they had been to no real treatment at this point of their sort of joint stories that have been books written about Messi. There have been books written about Ronaldo, but they had never been a sort of serious treatment of their rivalry, which kind of almost became a character in European soccer over the last sort of 20 to 25 years.
Jason Concepcion What emerged in your research that surprised you? I think one of the things I think about when I think about these two players is, you know, obviously an incredible club rivalry with Barcelona and Real Madrid. It’s a national rivalry. It’s a corporate rivalry between Nike and Adidas. But in terms of like how these two men feel about each other, it’s a black box. I have no idea. Did you get any insight into that?
Josh Robinson Yeah, I think at various points over the past 15 years, you know, they have clearly not like each other maybe more. Renaldo felt more antipathy towards Messi than the other way around. But what they realized fairly early on was that this rivalry existed and it very quickly outgrew both of them. It just became this other thing entirely. And not just Do you like Barcelona Rail better or Man United or eventually PSG. You know, it’s it became a world worldview. Yeah. Which one you preferred said a lot about how you viewed soccer, how you viewed competitiveness, how you viewed art, you know, winning, what it meant to be great. You know, everything else was kind of shaped by that. And the other part of it is that once you’re kind of in that dynamic, they cease to control it. Yeah. And ultimately, unlike a lot of other great sports rivalries, Messi and Ronaldo were only ever on the same pitch, maybe three dozen times. It’s not like Rafa and Roger or Roger Novak or Rafa Novak or Steph and LeBron, you know, you get those situations where those guys are going at it face to face a lot. And Messi, Ronaldo, it was a bunch of clasicos and that was more or less it was mainly Barcelona. But the encounters have been very few and far between and so fans have filled that space with everything they want to project onto it.
John Clegg Yeah, I think that’s right. I think you’re right in saying that that kind of thing has been a black box and in some ways Messi and Ronaldo are kind of quite unknowable creatures. You know, we don’t really they say very little beyond the sort of platitudes that every athlete comes out with. So it’s hard to really get a sense of who they are and everything they feel, which is why I think what makes that kind of rivalry so powerful is that they are kind of really just they’ve become archetypes for a certain type of personality, a certain type of mentality, a kind of approach to sports, but also to life. And so one of the things that makes their rivalry so strong and makes people feel completely crazy about it is that the success of one is sort of seen as a direct refutation of the other’s methods, right? Like Ronaldo’s success is sort of directly diminishes Messi’s accomplishments because it’s been achieved in the completely opposite way. So yeah, I think that’s one of the sort of really kind of unique elements to this rivalry, which has made it sort of so strong and made it such a sort of insane. Tribal thing online.
Jason Concepcion I think one of the more interesting aspect you mentioned about how this is really this entity, this rivalry really grew beyond the control of these two men. And I think the sponsorship aspect is interesting. The Wall Street Journal, your publication had an article snippet from the book about how Nike lost Messi in this became, you know, another aspect of their rivalry, Adidas for Nike. How does that come about? It’s really interesting.
Josh Robinson What we realized early on, you know, that this would be a major episode in the book because it’s not every day that Nike, which had only recently come in to soccer in a serious way. You know, they didn’t take it really seriously until soccer came looking for Nike in 1994 with the World Cup in the US. So, you know, within the first decade of them caring about soccer, suddenly they find themselves with these two teenagers, one in Portugal and one in Spain at that point who are both wearing Nike’s, both tied to the swoosh. And for that brief moment in time, they couldn’t have known it, but they would have had the opportunity to control both sides of the debate. And it’s the same way Nike had Rafa and Roger for all those years. And what happened was they threw in their lot with Cristiano, who was a little bit older. And as people came looking for Messi and people being Adidas at that point, they didn’t realize what they had on their hands. And ultimately, Messi’s dad is his agent or who is a prominent character in this book and keeps coming back and being a difficult character often. And the things we heard from people internally at Nike was, well, you know, he was agitating for more money, for more considerations in other areas. And once Adidas sniffed out, you know, kind of detected that there was an opportunity here, they came in over the top with $1,000,000 a year offer. And Nike was like, we’ll just move on, not realizing what they were letting go.
John Clegg I think one of the wildest parts of the entire episode was that Nike was not sort of convinced that Messi was going to be the star that he ultimately became. When we tend to think about Messi and his career, it’s like he was placed on a soccer pitch at the age of 18 and his genius just sort of immediately sprang forth. But it’s amazing to hear that within the Nike boardrooms, they were still very anxious about whether or not he would ultimately become the big star that people were talking about. They thought that he looked not much like an athlete. They knew that his eating habits were terrible. Messi basically consisted of subsisted on diet of Pepsi and pizza for his entire teenage years, and they were like, maybe not. Maybe maybe Ronaldo. This was more classic, you know, vision of a superstar athlete is the guy we want. And this Messi may be able to come, I think maybe not. But they definitely did not foresee that he would become the next of all time greats that, you know, funnily enough, you know, I think once for soccer people, as soon as Messi stepped on the field, it was like they knew. Yeah. It’s amazing that the suits in Oregon had no idea.
Jason Concepcion Well, I think they probably looked at what is this guy is five, five or five, six, and they probably looked at the stats and like, there’s no way this little guy is going to dominate world soccer. Right. That can happen. I wonder if something about it. Was that.
Josh Robinson Right? I think there’s definitely a piece of that. I think there’s also a piece of it. Look, you know, where you see him on the pitch, even when he’s like running around, he looks like he’s wearing, you know, a children’s large. It’s all of those things did not fit with, you know, the image of Nike, especially around soccer in the late nineties, early 2000, where the people they had were Ian Wright and Eric Cantona and the the original Renaldo. You know, those were amazing big characters, big athletes. And here they had this kid who even within his own locker room was considered to be basically mute. And that’s why when they lost him, the thing they used to say internally at Nike was imagine how much trouble we’d have been in if Messi had a personality.
Jason Concepcion It strikes me now looking at the you know, as we enter the Twilight Zone, we’re really in the middle of the twilight of these two players respective careers that it seems as if they are, to a certain extent, prisoners of their own success, like there was no way to transition from the euphoric highs of their careers to a late career stage. You know, Barsa has basically been bankrupted by, you know, among many other things, the of fulfilling the wage demands of Leo Messi. And then and you look at Ronaldo now is kind of languishing on a uninspiring menu side. Was there ever going to be a way for these men to kind of gracefully exit the stage?
Josh Robinson I’m going to let John answer that. But what I would say is that just so your comment about the becoming prisoners of their own success, they weren’t in there alone. They kind of brought everyone else in there with them. You know, Barcelona because they were trapped having. Spend to keep up with Messi’s success and keep giving him a competitive teams. Put itself in that prison and man united in bringing him back and making this big to do around it Cristiano saying he’s back where it belongs he’s still a world beater. It’s like you can’t it’s it’s ugly. As soon as you start to minimize him a little bit. I mean, he was substituted this weekend and came off shaking his head.
Jason Concepcion Yeah.
Josh Robinson After not doing a whole lot of anything.
John Clegg Yeah. I think the issue is that their success and the enormous amounts of money that they come on doing their jobs meant that there was only a small handful of teams that could ever entertain the thought of signing them. And when your options are limited to like five or six teams across the best teams in Europe, there’s not really, like you say, like there is no graceful way out. Ronaldo could not drop down to a sort of mid-tier club because no mid-tier club could possibly afford him. So he’s left sort of trying to map out the kind of final waning years of his career, bouncing, like I say, from this small cabal of clubs that could pay his wages, trying to find a place that he might be able to get the most playing time, trying to find a place where he can still relive some of those old glories in the Champions League and, you know, essentially stuck at Man United. You know, he wanted to leave the summit but couldn’t find any way out. There was no exit strategy there because, you know, they looked into Bayern Munich. But like I say, once, the small list of clubs that have been exhausted, there’s nowhere to go, there’s no exit, there’s no way left.
Jason Concepcion And certainly Messi still playing, at least statistically on a high level. But for a PSG team that is, you know, a comedy waiting to happen in any given moment. And it seems like Kylian Mbappé wants out. As we look back, what in your minds are the the iconic moments of these two men, you know, on the same pitch?
Josh Robinson I think one that stands out for us. And there’s we did a whole chapter on it was the four clasicos in 18 days. In retrospect, that was a truly insane spell in sports. I mean, 18 days is the length of the Olympics, right? But in the space of one time, except for clasicos with both guys at the total peak of their powers. And what was amazing about them in those days and whether playing around Barca is that their rivalry came to piggyback on an already existing super rivalry. And as I said before, all the things that they embodied became attached to all the things that, you know, Barca and its whole image of like Catalan separatism came to represent as well, and Real Madrid being like the old house of Spain. And somehow both of those guys fit perfectly into those narratives. It was seamless. And so for those 18 days, you’ve got this psychodrama playing out on a national level in Spain and around the world involving these two men trying to get one over on the other. While your cast of supporting characters includes Florentino Perez, Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and this basically everyone who was anyone for the next ten years in global soccer is kind of there, and that confluence of characters and general mania is something we don’t get a lot in sports. And so those four clasicos were just, just becoming too much for everyone, even pep cracked.
John Clegg And the fact that even with those enormous characters also in the game, the fact that everyone around the world saw those games as Messi versus Ronaldo tells you everything that you need to know about the kind of the start of the enormous impact that they had on those games. In soccer, generally, every single one was seen as a kind of referendum on Messi verses Ronaldo.
Jason Concepcion The book is Messi verse Ronaldo: One Rivalry, Two Goats, and the Era That Remade the World’s Game. The authors, Joshua Robinson and Jonathan Clegg, were kind enough to join us. Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us.
John Clegg Thanks a lot.
Josh Robinson Thanks so much. Our pleasure.
Jason Concepcion That’s it for us. Follow and subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts and check out my pop culture and entertainment podcast, X-ray Vision, which comes out every Friday. Goodbye. Takeline is a Crooked Media production. The show is produced by Ryan Wallerson and Zuri Irvin. Our executive producers are myself and Sandy Girard. Engineering, editing and sound design by the great Sarah Dubalaska and the folks at Chapter four. And our theme music is produced by Brian Vasquez. Mia Kelman is on the Zoom for vibes, and the vibes are fantastic all the time.