Jul 14, 2018; Washington, DC, USA; D.C. United forward Wayne Rooney (9) celebrates with D.C. United midfielder Luciano Acosta (10) after assisting on a goal by D.C. United forward Paul Arriola (not pictured) against the Vancouver Whitecaps at Audi Field. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)
WASHINGTON — After a highly-talked about offseason for the starring duo of D.C. United’s attack, captain Wayne Rooney and midfielder Luciano Acosta prepare for another Major League Soccer season.
The pressure on Acosta during the first half of the 2018 season outweighed his goals, but he found a spark with the arrival of Rooney from the English Premier League. The two talents instantly clicked on the field. Acosta and Rooney — dubbed Luchoroo by United television announcer Dave Johnson — combined for 22 of United’s 37 goals in the latter part of the season. The pair combined directly in seven games.
“It wasn’t a coaching thing,” United coach Ben Olsen said. “They enjoyed playing with each other and they read each other very well. They click.”
Noted as a turning point for the team and Acosta, Luchoroo scored twice in a nail-biter game Aug. 12 against Orlando City SC. The first goal was a quick give-and-go near the penalty box between Acosta and Rooney. Swarmed by three Orlando players, Rooney gave a one-touch pass back to Acosta, who took the ball in for the score.
In the sixth minute of stoppage time with the score tied at 2-2 — the second goal also coming off the foot of Acosta — Rooney showed his speed, lit the afterburners and beat Orlando midfielder Will Johnson in United’s half. Rooney launched the winning cross to the elevated head of 5-foot-3 Acosta and the Argentine recorded a hat trick. The rest went down in club history.
— D.C. United (@dcunited) January 1, 2019
After that game, Acosta found the back of the net more often than not. He scored nine of his 10 season goals after the arrival of Rooney. The increase in scoring was a combination of connection with the former England captain and the release of mounting pressure that Acosta previously held on his shoulders.
“I know I’m not a player who is going to pick the ball up and go past three or four players at this time in my career,” Rooney said. “I’ll let Luciano do that. And when I’ve got my back to goal, give him the ball and get in the box and hopefully he’ll find me. From my end it’s quite simple.”
Despite United’s early exit from MLS Cup playoffs, Acosta’s achievements did not go unnoticed. In the 11th hour of the 2019 European transfer window, rumors swirled linking Acosta to French powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain.
The midfielder even flew from team training camp in Clearwater, Fla., to Paris in case a physical was needed. But the deal fell through and Acosta returned, rightfully discourage after the failed deal.
“He has been extremely professional in the way he has gone about the preseason. We all know it was a tough blow, but this is the life of soccer. Things like this do happen. I am not trying to minimize the disappointment that he had, but since then, he has come back and given us everything at training,” Olsen said. “I think he is on the right team right now to continue to progress and mature. If he can progress and take even another step forward from last year, watch out.”
Rooney made headlines of his own during the offseason after he was arrested at Dulles Airport. Olsen is confident that the media attention won’t affect Rooney this season.
“He is Wayne. That is what is so great about him. He is pretty consistent about the game on the field and in the locker room,” Olsen said. “Leaders are hard to come by nowadays in the game of soccer. He is a very good one.”
Question marks still surround Acosta’s future at United, especially with his contract ending at the end of the 2019 season. If United and Acosta cannot come to terms before then, he could sign a pre-contract with another club six month prior to the end of his current agreement with United. If that happened, he would walk for free instead of drawing a hefty transfer fee for United.
Despite the uncertainty, D.C. United expects more of the same from Luchoroo this season, which begins with an inaugural season-opener at Audi Field against defending MLS champion Atlanta United March 3 at 6 p.m. ET.
“It is no secret that they really enjoy playing with each other,” Olsen said. “They will continue to be a dynamic duo in this league.”