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D.C. United 2018 season review: Luciano Acosta

Our annual review of the entire DCU roster begins by looking back at Lucho’s breakout season

Caitlin Buckley

Years from now, when we think back to D.C. United’s momentous 2018 season, what will come to mind first? Wayne Rooney and Audi Field, sure, but for many fans, I’m betting that the first image that will bubble up is going to be some piece of magic from Luciano Acosta. As much as United’s return to respectability has to do with the England legend, a favorable schedule, and brand-new digs, they don’t sniff the playoffs without Acosta’s spectacular season.

Coming into 2018, the book on Acosta was well-known: Obviously one of the most skillful and talented players in all of MLS, but dogged by questions about consistency and temperament. The former Boca Juniors playmaker could be the kind of player who won games on his own, but all too often he cut a frustrated (and, depending on your outlook, frustrating) player. United acquired Acosta both to be the centerpiece of their attack, and as an investment for the future. Heading into the year with 8 goals and 16 assists in 62 career appearances, the objective for Acosta was to see him turn all that ability into a consistent final product.

Well, consider that mission accomplished. Acosta scored more goals (10) and posted more assists (17) in 33 appearances in 2018 than he’d had in his MLS career coming in. After missing the season opener due to a suspension carried over from 2017, Acosta played in all of United’s remaining MLS matches, their lone playoff game, and appeared in both US Open Cup outings. He missed out on the official MLS assist lead on the final day of the regular season, and per American Soccer Analysis his 15 direct assists (i.e. no secondary assists) were three better than anyone in the league. Acosta made the MLS Best XI for the first time in his career.

These weren’t meaningless goals or assists, either. He produced four game-winning goals and three game-winning assists, meaning that he produced something vital in half of United’s wins on the season. He added a goal and an assist that got United a draw from a losing position, and both were critical: his 97th minute goal against Houston at the Maryland SoccerPlex way back in March, and setting up Yamil Asad’s 70th minute goal in August’s important 1-1 draw at Montreal.

But you’re already thinking about something else:

That’s one of the great plays not just in United history, but in American soccer history, especially taken in context. That goal completed his hat trick, it won the game deep into stoppage time, and it was unquestionably a vital goal for the Black-and-Red’s season. D.C. was 4W-6D-9L as Acosta’s header arced over Joe Bendik and into the net in the north goal; from that moment on, United went 10W-3D-2L.

Much has been made about how much Acosta’s play improved after Rooney came to town. It’s hard to argue against 9 goals and 10 assists in 20 games, after all. However, we shouldn’t sell La Joya’s early-season play short. Playing almost exclusively on the road and without Rooney, he still managed 1 goal and 7 assists in 13 appearances. He was spectacular down the stretch, but he was pretty good before that too.

The underlying numbers help explain Acosta’s success. He was in the top 10 in successful dribbles per 90 minutes (2.4), inside the top 25 in key passes (1.9) and fouls suffered (also 1.9), and fourth in the league in successful through balls per 90 (0.3). All of this is to put some numbers behind the idea that Acosta was a nightmare for opposing teams, and that he regularly put on a show for United fans.

Still, things could have turned out differently. Back on the eve of the playoffs, Steve Goff wrote a piece detailing a summer meeting between an unhappy Acosta and United officials in which the topic of him finding a new club was broached. Acosta could have also taken Rooney’s arrival, which meant no longer being the team’s star player, the wrong way.

Instead, we more or less know he’s coming back next year. United picked up his option, and multiple reports have said that the club is looking to give him a raise after a wonderful season. It is conceivable that his play could draw offers from abroad, but with no rumor buzz going and a price tag that is probably well over $3 million, Lucho might be here for a while. Which, I’m guessing, we can all deal with just fine.

We traditionally close these pieces with a question, and on this one at least, it’s probably an easy one for United fans to answer:


Do you want Luciano Acosta back for the 2019 season?

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