Lucho Acosta Lifts FC Cincinnati Once Again

The reigning league MVP scored his 60th MLS goal to push the Orange and Blue on top of the Eastern Conference standings.

We in sports media prefer nice, round numbers to mark milestones, and Lucho Acosta reached a historic one in FC Cincinnati’s 1-0 victory over New York City FC on Saturday. His 57th-minute goal, the product of a nifty interchange with Aaron Boupendza and Corey Baird, gave the captain 60 goals for his MLS career. Already with 80 career assists to his name, Acosta became the seventh player in league history to reach 60 goals and 80 assists and was the fourth-quickest to reach this career landmark (224 matches).

Photograph by Joseph Guzy

Acosta’s milestone is indicative of a well-rounded offensive dynamo. So many players are adept in front of goal but lack the final pass. Others are shaky in front of the net but can line up a through ball time after time. The reigning league MVP is still a playmaker first and foremost, leading the league in key passes—a pass to a player who had a shot on goal but failed to score—after finishing third last season and second in 2022.

Acosta led the league in assists with 19 in 2022, the engine fueling Cincinnati’s fearsome striker duo of Brenner and Brandon Vazquez, who notched 18 goals apiece. He was fourth in MLS in assists in 2023.

Though Acosta set a career high with 17 goals last season, seven of them were from the penalty spot. The 10 non-penalty goals equaled a career-best previously established in 2018 with D.C. United. That statistic isn’t meant to take away from his flair in front of the net; the Argentine won MLS Goal of the Year in 2023 for good reason. He’s scored through an array of free kicks, chip shots, and bullet strikes that never cease to amaze.

In any case, Acosta is the primary catalyst for why the franchise’s fortunes have flipped from three straight Wooden Spoons 2019-2021 (last place finishes) to a playoff victory in 2022 to the Supporters’ Shield in 2023. It’s strange to think that he was seemingly available for the right price entering the 2021 season.

Acosta left D.C. United after the 2019 season for Mexican first-division side Atlas. He made 34 appearances but tallied just three goals and two assists across all competitions. Former FC Cincinnati General Manager Gerard Nijkamp and his staff managed to convince Acosta to join MLS’s worst club in March 2021, with the Orange and Blue sending $250,000 in General Allocation Money (GAM) plus future incentive-based GAM considerations to D.C. United in exchange for his MLS rights.

Not much went right for Nijamp during his two-year tenure, but signing Acosta was the masterstroke that provided the subsequent Chris Albright and Pat Noonan regime with a franchise player. Since they arrived ahead of the 2022 campaign, Acosta has 64 goal contributions (29 goals, 35 assists), thriving in the central midfield role in Noonan’s 3-5-2 / 3-4-1-2 formation. After signing a three-year contract in March 2021, the 29-year-old recommitted his remaining prime years to Cincinnati in September, inking an extension through 2026 (with an option for 2027).

Saturday’s goal was a massive one for club psyche, with the prospect of a third straight scoreless draw in home league matches looming for an outfit still searching for a rhythm in the offensive third. Prior to Acosta’s breakthrough, video assistant review overturned an emphatic first-half header that would have been Kipp Keller’s first career goal—though memes of Keller’s tongue-out, headfirst slide will endure—with Aaron Boupendza also muffing a one-on-one with NYCFC keeper Matt Freese.

Instead, thanks to Acosta, FC Cincinnati (11 points) occupies sole position of first place in the Eastern Conference entering a Saturday evening foray in Charlotte (7 points).

Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.

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