D.C. United's midfield overhaul continued today, as the Black-and-Red have completed a deal to acquire attacking midfielder Luciano Acosta on a one-year loan from Boca Juniors, historically one of the top two teams in Argentina. The 21 year old Acosta, who played frequently last season on loan with Estudiantes de La Plata, was first reported to be heading to the District by Argentine journalist Lucho Torres Toranzo. As we reported before, United's deal with Boca Juniors includes a clause that would allow United to purchase Acosta's playing rights.
United had apparently looked into signing Acosta previously, only for the price tag at the time to be too high. They weren't alone in their interest, as two of United's biggest rivals are said to have considered a move for the enganche. Per Kevin Kinkead, the Philadelphia Union were put off by the price tag in 2015:
This guy was a Union target last year. Price was too high https://t.co/UQubChKv02— Kevin Kinkead (@KevinKCBS3) February 6, 2016
Meanwhile, according to Steve Goff, the New York Red Bulls had the top discovery claim on Acosta but opted to step aside rather than make a bona fide offer. Goff's report also notes that Dave Kasper had approached Boca Juniors about Acosta and was initially rebuffed, causing United to turn their attentions towards former target Leonardo Gil. Acosta was nearly sent on loan to Brazilian club Coritiba, but Boca Juniors evidently preferred to send him to MLS instead.
A fairly constant complaint among United fans in recent years has been the lack of creativity in central areas, and Acosta is being brought in to solve that. Boca Juniors has a legendary tradition of developing outstanding playmakers; players like Juan Roman Riquelme and former Columbus Crew #10 Guillermo Barros Schelotto are just a few names that come to mind.
Acosta's game is said to be slightly different from that trio. He is still supposed to be a gifted passer in and around the 18 yard box, but the 5'3" midfielder is known for having quite a bit of speed for a central playmaker. Between his stature and the descriptions of his playing style, the MLS player United fans may want to keep in mind is Mauro Diaz of FC Dallas. Diaz is also a young, short Argentine #10 who came from a giant club in his home country (River Plate, Boca's fiercest rival). He's also outrageously skillful, creative, and fast to boot. If Acosta is anything close to United's version of Diaz, this is a very exciting signing indeed.
The arrival of a true playmaker may well signal a shift away from the flat 442 that Ben Olsen has used for nearly all of the past three years. The role Diaz belongs in doesn't exist in that formation, so Olsen will have to choose between moving to a diamond midfield or implementing either a 4231 or 4411. United's offseason moves for wingers like Patrick Nyarko and Lamar Neagle indicate that the diamond - which requires "wide" midfielders who play rather narrow - isn't very likely.
Instead, if Acosta performs at a level his reputation would indicate that he's capable of, look for United to play Fabian Espindola - himself a former Boca Juniors product - up front by himself. Acosta will take up the space underneath him, with Chris Rolfe moving to one flank and Nyarko, Neagle, and Nick DeLeon battling for the starting job on the other side. This formation change might help elsewhere, as Markus Halsti's tendency to not cover all that much ground will be mitigated by the fact that United would be playing with three in central midfield rather than two.
United fans will get their first look at Acosta in just a few hours, as the team has informed us that he will play in tonight's friendly against the Tampa Bay Rowdies.