WASHINGTON – As important as midfield additions Paul Arriola, Russell Canouse and now Zoltan Stieber have been to D.C. United’s resurgence, it's the rejuvenated play of Luciano Acosta that has been at the center of the Black-and-Red’s three game winning streak.
The 23-year-old Argentine played all but six minutes of D.C.’s eight-day winning run, and over two 90-minute shifts at RFK Stadium buzzed all over the field to keep offensive plays alive and defensive pressure constant.
It was one such moment, when he outraced defenders to keep an errant corner kick from rolling out of play, which kept alive the sequence that eventually resulted in his 71st-minute match-winner in Saturday’s 1-0 victory over the New England Revolution.
That play marked an obvious contrast from other moments this season, when the Boca Juniors product showed visible frustration with his team’s offensive struggles.
“We from South America, we feel the soccer, and if it’s not going well, it seems like our personal life is not going well. He’s not different,” teammate Marcelo Sarvas said of Acosta. “Three games ago, we couldn’t chain three passes, we couldn’t find a way to play, and you could see on him the reflection.”
D.C.’s midfield additions appear to be one source of Acosta's new energy. Saturday marked the first time they were deployed simultaneously, with Hungarian international Stieber making a strong showing in his MLS debut.
Coach Ben Olsen acknowledged the difference in Acosta is notable. And although he’d like to see his playmaker hit that level more consistently, Olsen also empathized with the challenge of being the most important offensive player for a struggling team.
“I’ve talked to him about the responsibility he has for this group as an influential player on the field and off the field,” Olsen said. “Because if you’re an influential player on the field, you’re an influential player off the field. It’s just how it goes. So his ability to dig in and do some of those little things I think, in a lot of ways, guys have followed. And he’s never been relied on throughout his career as much as we’re relying on him for a young guy.”
Acosta combined with Lloyd Sam and Kofi Opare, two others who’ve been with D.C. throughout their dispiriting season, on his goal. Those veterans, Sam in particular, have embraced new arrivals who might challenge for their places in the team.
“The competition [for places] has helped everything,” said Sam, who came on Saturday as a second-half sub. “We just won three games in a row. It speaks for itself, really.”
Sarvas also credited the mentality of the new arrivals, and how they’ve managed the expectation to turn around what had been a frustrating campaign.
“They didn’t look for the standings,” Sarvas said. “They just came with the right mentality and said, 'For us, it’s zero. We start right now.' And I think they are pieces that complement what we need.”