What can D.C. United expect from Acosta in year two?

After many years of trying D.C. United finally appear to have a Designated Player to build around.

When Luciano Acosta came to D.C. United last season it wasn’t exactly headline news in D.C. soccer circles. The Boca Juniors academy product was a quiet loan signing in the middle of a very bustling transfer window. Journalists and supporters alike scurried to YouTube to find any and all footage of the newest United signing with scant work available. He was an unknown quantity, one of many that seem to come to the league every year.

While United does not exactly have the best track record with international signings Acosta is one of the rare times where it worked out for the side. After a tremendous first season with United Acosta was rewarded on Tuesday with a full-time contract. Exact terms of the deal were not released although the club mentioned in their press release that this was a record transfer fee for United.

“We are excited to obtain Lucho’s services for the long-term. Ben, the rest of the coaching staff and I were impressed with how much Lucho grew as a player over the course of his first season in MLS,” said Dave Kasper, United general manager and VP of soccer operations. “His rapid development and acclimation to a new league, country, team and culture are a sure sign of things to come.”

Acosta’s acclimation to MLS and, more importantly, United’s attacking system is what made him stand out in 2016. The Argentine center midfielder size (130 pounds) and stature (5’3″) doesn’t exactly fit the model of the prototypical MLS midfielder and there were concerns as to whether he could handle the physical toll of the league.

However, Acosta’s exceptional passing and dribbling abilities allowed him to get past those deficiencies and become one of the best attacking midfielders in the league. In 31 appearances for United this season Acosta three goals and tallied 11 assists. In particular his partnership up top with Patrick Mullins helped jump-start the lagging United (11-10-13, 46 points) defense, pushing the club back into the playoff discussion late in the season.

What will be interesting to see next season is how his style evolves. At times this season it seemed as Acosta was held back, not necessarily because he was doing anything wrong but because he was still adjusting to coach Ben Olsen’s style. Olsen shifted the club mid-season from a more conservative style to a more proactive one with the center back acting as more of a forward than just a facilitator of attacking chances. That seemed to suit Acosta perfectly who likes to make deep runs down the center of the pitch and deliver diagonal crosses to wingers. If Olsen continues to use this style of play then one can expect more attacking chances from Acosta.

With Acosta locked up United’s attention now turns to finding him a partner at center mid. Acosta did set up a good partnership with Rob Vincent at the end of the season with the former Pittsburgh Riverhound playing as a defensive midfielder. But Vincent really struggled at times with tracking attackers and was schooled by Matteo Mancosu in United’s loss to the Montreal Impact in the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs. Marcelo Sarvas will also be in this discussion although at the age of 35 one has to wonder if United might want a younger option.

No matter who United chooses to line up alongside of Luciano Acosta what is certain is that the club seems to have finally found a player to build around. At just 22 years old the sky is the limit for Lucho provided D.C. gets some help around him.