WASHINGTON -- Luciano Acosta has struggled to find his footing since joining D.C. United, while his new club has searched in vain for offensive improvement.
But teammate Marcelo Sarvas has seen it all before and is not overly concerned.
“If you look at the history in this league, all the good players, talented midfielders, No. 10s that are very rare in this league, their first season is always hard,” the veteran midfielder said Wednesday. “It’s not Lucho. It’s how it is.”
Signed on loan from Boca Juniors in late February and billed as a much-needed creative engine, the 21-year-old Acosta has yet to play a full 90 minutes.
He was reduced to a substitute in D.C.’s last two matches, as manager Ben Olsen slid fellow Argentine Fabián Espíndola, who had been previously sidelined with a hamstring problem, into the lineup for the first time this season.
“Fabi got healthy. And we needed goals,” Olsen told The Washington Post on Tuesday. “Fabi is a guy that can produce goals by himself. … So this isn’t something that Acosta hasn’t done, necessarily.”
Even so, Espíndola’s best performance this season came off the bench when he scored the equalizer in a 1-1 draw against the Colorado Rapids. Altogether, there have been only three goals in five league matches for winless United (0-2-3).
Acosta has grown visibly frustrated at times, particularly in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at San Jose, a 14-minute cameo that included his second MLS yellow card.
“I’ve been talking to him,” Sarvas said. “It’s more about to keep him motivated. Always, when you come overseas, you think you’re going to be playing, everything is going to be a dream and a paradise. But the reality is a little bit different.”
To help, Sarvas has shared the travails of other foreign players.
“Today we talked a lot about Mauro Díaz in Dallas,” Sarvas said. “If you look at his first year, and now his third year, if you look, the stats and numbers are completely different.”
After getting to MLS as a 22-year-old, Díaz overcame injuries and the MLS’s more physical style to become one of the league's premier playmakers, going from 3 goals and 3 assists in his first full season, 2014, to 8 goals and 10 assists last year.
D.C.’s offensive approach differs considerably from Dallas’, and even Olsen has admitted his side’s 4-4-2 may not best suit Acosta’s strengths.
“I think Acosta’s best role would be in a three-man midfield; he’s done that in Argentina,” Olsen told the Post. “If you played more of a 4-1-4-1, I could see that argument of him being in the center of the park. But in our formation, he is a guy I view as a second forward or a true number 10.”
Sarvas thinks the adjustment is as much a matter of style as of shape.
“The soccer in South America is completely different,” he said. “Here it’s much more physical, you don’t have much time on the ball. You have to find your space very fast. You have to think and one-touch and find your space.”