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Sandy • America First Field was nearly emptied around noon on Friday. Real Salt Lake had a plane to catch, a quick flight over the Rockies to Denver, Colo., where Saturday RSL will face rival Colorado Rapids for the first time in 2017.

One player stayed late.

And he listened to the instruction relayed by assistant coach Tyrone Marshall. When a ball hit Danilo Acosta's left foot, he'd take a breath and drive it into the box at RSL's training grounds in Sandy. Acosta, 19, hit crosses toward absolutely no one. The RSL homegrown product was just trying to whip in crosses that could — if he makes a return to the starting lineup after making his MLS debut last weekend — find the head of a teammate.

"You always have to do it," Acosta said. "If you want to get better every day, you also got to find ways how to improve. Me and Tyrone doing that every day, if I have to do it with my right foot, I gotta get better at it."

Standing off to the side was head coach Mike Petke, who undoubtedly was taking note that the youngest player on his first-team roster was working overtime. A left-footed player, Acosta made his RSL debut in the 3-0 win over Vancouver at right back. RSL's defenders have been that decimated by injury.

"He's so talented, and to be put on the right when he's clearly a left and have the game that he had with the circumstances was pretty remarkable," veteran defender Chris Wingert said. "I'm not surprised with the things that he did well, though, because we know how fast he is and strong. And man, he looked so comfortable out there. You would've thought he's played 100 games at that spot. It worked out well and he deserved a lot of credit for that."

The 10th homegrown signing in RSL history, Acosta joined the first team in December 2015. And like every other academy player to transition, he had to wait his time. In 2016, Acosta saw time in 18 matches for Real Monarchs in USL.

This year, Acosta's been sure to get in the ear of the established names. Before leaving to join the U.S. U-20 national team for CONCACAF U-20 World Cup qualifying in February, Acosta was asking Wingert about the ins and the outs of left back, where he started every game but one in Costa Rica.

When he was needed at right back, he started looking to Tony Beltran, who has missed the last three games with a nagging back injury. Beltran encouraged the youngster to get forward, to join the attack and when possible, use his left foot to provide scoring chances for RSL's goal-scorers. Acosta did that in his debut, dropping a dime on Yura Movsisyan in the first half.

"I'm still learning from them and just listening," Acosta said. "Whatever they say, I do it, because they know, they've been there already."

Goalkeeper Nick Rimando said prepping such inexperienced players comes down to instilling added confidence to help them not get shaky on such a big stage. As Rimando noted, Acosta isn't one to get shaky. Acosta buried the tournament-clinching penalty kick for the U.S. U-20s — the first competitive PK Acosta had ever taken.

Confidence isn't an issue for Acosta.

"I thought he did a great job Saturday," Rimando said, "even though he was on the right side and not his normal left. You want to talk to him before the game starts and leave it at that and let him do his thing. He's here for a reason."

-Chris Kamrani

Twitter: @chriskamrani