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How high will D.C. United go for Luciano Acosta, and other roster questions

With Wayne Rooney, left, by his side the second half of the season, Luciano Acosta enjoyed his best year with D.C. United and finished with 10 goals and 17 assists. (Nick Wass/Associated Press) (Nick Wass (AP))

D.C. United is poised to parlay 2018′s late-season renaissance into full-season excellence in 2019, but with several roster issues on the winter agenda, the front office will not enjoy much holiday downtime.

Less than six weeks until training camp opens, club officials are involved in contract negotiations, player searches and salary cap readjustments. Some tie-ups may leave fans a little uneasy. They include:

>> Luciano Acosta is under contract in 2019 and, after his sensational second half of the season paired with Wayne Rooney, United is actively trying to sign him to a long-term deal before the next campaign begins.

Failure to do so could cause friction during the season and lead to his departure (without a transfer fee) when his deal expires next winter. The sides would continue to talk, but it’s always better to strike a deal before the year commences.

Acosta had a base salary of $550,000 and overall compensation of $652,000 this year — both figures are fourth on the roster behind Rooney, Zoltan Stieber and Paul Arriola. After earning Best XI honors and finishing seventh in MVP voting, the 24-year-old Argentine is well-positioned for a considerable raise.

United is engaged in talks with Acosta’s agent, but it’s unclear how high the organization will need to go to strike a deal.

Acosta, an emotional and moody player and person, seems a little impatient with the talks, posting photos on social media of him waving to the crowd at Audi Field at the end of a match and of playing with Boca Juniors years ago (though the latter seemed more of a shout-out to his first club than a cry to return home).

During Acosta’s fabulous run, speculation swelled that United would field offers from overseas this winter. One independent agent believes he could play for a mid- or low-level Premier League side.

So far, the only formal contact has come from a club in the Middle East — and the transfer figures did not blow United away. That doesn’t mean European teams are not aware of him; they are. Interest could resurface in the coming weeks.

If the price is very right, United would have to consider selling him. Ideally, the club would like to sign him to a major, long-term deal soon. . . .

>> Yamil Asad’s situation remains complicated and his chances of returning are, according to one source, “50-50.”

Asad has been on loan to MLS from Argentine club Velez Sarsfield. The loan is up, and United must decide whether to pay a permanent transfer fee. There is a set figure — unknown to the public but believed to be less than $1 million — that D.C. is attempting to negotiate down or spread over several years. It could try to extend the loan.

Asad, 25, had nine goals and eight assists this year, starting regularly on the left wing when healthy. He is happy in MLS, happy in Washington. His salary — $436,000 base and $520,000 overall in 2018 — is not the issue; his rights are.

General Manager Dave Kasper cautioned last month that it would “take time” to resolve the Asad situation. . . .

>> United was bracing to lose Nick DeLeon to FC Cincinnati in the MLS expansion draft Tuesday before the new entry claimed D.C. forward Darren Mattocks instead. That does not mean DeLeon is certain to return to Washington, however. In fact, he is probably headed elsewhere.

After United declined his contract option last month — he made $275,000 this year and due a raise — the sides entered into negotiations over a new deal at a lower salary. DeLeon, sources said, turned down the most recent offer. (The sticking point was apparently the number of guaranteed years.)

He is eligible for the league’s reentry draft, which commences Friday with the first stage (teams must agree to the selected player’s option number) and continues next Thursday with the second stage (when teams can negotiate a new contract).

The issue for United — and probably a few clubs around the league — is his knee, which forced him to miss four months last season. (He apparently has bone-on-bone issues.) DeLeon, 28, returned late in the campaign and scored a sensational equalizer against Columbus in the playoffs.

He boasts United’s longest continuous service (seven years), so there is an emotional connection there. It’s not out of the question he rejoins United, but odds are he will sign with another team.

With DeLeon possibly gone, Oniel Fisher out until the summer recovering from a serious knee injury and Chris Odoi-Atsem undergoing treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, United is in urgent need of a starting right back. If no one is found via signing or trade, Arriola, a natural attacker who filled in at right back at times this year, could end up on the back corner on a regular basis. . . .

>> United is trying to trade second-choice goalkeeper David Ousted, who has a guaranteed contract in 2019. He made $350,000 base this year — a number too high to play sparingly behind Bill Hamid next season. The Dane will turn 34 on Feb. 1.

There is apparently interest around MLS or he could end up back in Europe. . . .

>> United was relieved to lose Mattocks in the expansion draft instead of DeLeon or center back Frederic Brillant. D.C. officials said weeks ago they had no intention of re-signing Mattocks, who was the starting striker until Rooney’s arrival.

For its expansion-draft troubles, United received $50,000 in general allocation money that it can apply toward other acquisitions this winter. (All five teams that lost a player in the expansion draft were compensated with GAM.) . ..

>> United had ample room under the salary cap last year to upgrade the roster, but even with the departure of several players this offseason, there is apparently not much space available.

Rooney’s designated-player number will have full impact after making a half-strike with his midseason arrival in 2018. Turning 24, Arriola will no longer count as a young designated player; his cap number will be the same as Rooney’s (around $520,000) instead of last year’s reduced figure ($200,000).

After cutting ties with several players, United will need to fill about a dozen roster slots before the March 2-3 season opener. . . .

>> Several United players are likely under consideration for the first U.S. national team training camp under Gregg Berhalter, the new coach. The list of mostly MLS players will probably be announced in 7-10 days. Camp will open Jan. 7 in Chula Vista, Calif., and include friendlies against Panama on Jan. 27 in suburban Phoenix and Costa Rica on Feb. 2 in San Jose, Calif. (not San Jose, Costa Rica).

Top D.C. candidates: Hamid, Arriola and defensive midfielder Russell Canouse, who played a major role in United’s turnaround.

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