MVP repeat? Luciano Acosta sets target for FC Cincinnati in 2024


MIAMI – To hear Luciano Acosta tell it, both he and FC Cincinnati have a whole lot to prove entering the 2024 MLS season.

"Go twice as hard this year," the gifted Argentine playmaker said early into a recent conversation with at Media Marketing Day.

This stemmed from none other than the reigning Landon Donovan MLS MVP, who also happens to captain the reigning Supporters’ Shield winners. And yet here was Acosta, setting ambitious goals to top a wildly successful 2023 season he considers the "best" of his career.

"Win the MVP award again, go back-to-back," the 29-year-old followed up, something not yet accomplished in MLS.

The award's only two-time winner, current Seattle Sounders FC assistant coach Preki, earned the distinction with Sporting Kansas City (formerly known as the Kansas City Wizards) in 1997 and 2003.

"Give twice the effort"

Still, it’s not good enough for Acosta, especially in light of his team’s heartbreaking loss to eventual champions Columbus Crew in the Eastern Conference Final – a Hell is Real rivalry setback that left the Orange & Blue without a coveted MLS Cup-Supporters’ Shield double.

"I think we were close to achieving glory and it didn’t happen," said Acosta, who posted a league-best 31 goal contributions (17g/14a) to lead Cincy atop the regular-season standings (20W-5L-9D; 69 points) last year. "But this year we have to give twice the effort to improve and stay on the same path we’re on."

That path was largely forged with Acosta’s signing during the 2021 season, the last of three straight Wooden Spoon finishes for Cincy upon joining MLS as an expansion team. The arrival of head coach Pat Noonan and general manager Chris Albright for the following year further solidified the club’s transformation, as did a first-ever Audi MLS Cup Playoffs trip in 2022.

During that time, Acosta also formed a dangerous offensive trio with Brandon Vazquez and Brenner, the latter being replaced by fellow Designated Player Aaron Boupendza midway through last season. The attacking group is undergoing another change for 2024 with the wintertime departure of Vazquez, whose 26g/12a in 62 regular-season matches over the past two seasons earned him a transfer to Liga MX powerhouse CF Monterrey.

Set up for success

However, not even losing arguably his closest on-field partner can shake Acosta’s faith in a club that quickly found a possible replacement in free agent Corey Baird, while also making one of the biggest splashes of the offseason by landing USMNT center back Miles Robinson.

Additional moves are expected before their Matchday 1 opener vs. Toronto FC on Feb. 25 (2:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass), as well as a Concacaf Champions Cup debut.

"I think the team is the same," Acosta said. "… The coach’s ideas are the same, the base of the team is intact. We’ll keep on improving. We’ll try to incorporate the new players as quickly as possible so that they’ll feel like part of the group and share the squad’s enthusiasm and mentality of achieving all the goals we’ve set for ourselves."

Chief among those goals is not just competing for titles on multiple fronts, but surpassing last season’s Supporters’ Shield haul.

"You want to win everything," the midfielder answered when asked if Cincinnati have any silverware priorities in 2024. "When you set goals, I think you have to go for everything."

In the mix with Messi

That also applies to personal objectives, which in this case means repeating as MLS MVP – a feat that’s made even more complicated, according to Acosta, due to a certain eight-time Ballon d’Or winner who’s set to play his first full season at Inter Miami CF.

"This year will be twice as hard because \[Lionel\] Messi has an entire year to do things that we all know only he can do," Acosta said. "Just competing with him will be a beautiful thing."

However, Acosta believes Messi is just one of several A-listers who could be the talk of the league this season.

"Then there’s Cucho Hernández, he has to be on the list as well. Dénis Bouanga could also have a great season. \[Luis\] Suárez is in the league now," he said. "I think it’s going to be very difficult to compete against those players. Apologies if I’ve forgotten someone, but it’s going to be very difficult."

The heightened competition further fuels Acosta’s desire to enhance his legacy at FC Cincinnati and win as many trophies as possible – adding to a collection of career accolades and memorabilia at his home. While an MLS Cup would likely change things, there's already a clear crown jewel.

"My son [Constantino] touches it and looks at it, but not much," Acosta, laughingly, said of his MVP award. "He’s getting older now and knows the risks."