In a meeting Tuesday with editors and reporters from The Washington Post, Kasper said: “Certainly our priority is to get him under contract. If we are not able to, we will address it at that time, but that is our goal. We want to win a title this year. We want to keep him here all year. There may be a temptation in the summer window to sell him, but we want to win.”
Acosta’s contract expires in December. If the sides do not reach an agreement by the end of June, he would have the flexibility to sign a precontract with another organization. In such a scenario, Acosta would remain with United until the end of the season before joining his new team next winter. Acosta’s contract would be ending, so United would lose out on a transfer fee worth potentially several million dollars. A new contract would not prevent D.C. from selling him but would ensure a lucrative transfer fee.
In late January, as the French league’s buying window was about to close, Paris Saint-Germain showed interest in buying Acosta for at least $7 million. With little time to negotiate, however, the sides were unable to reach an agreement.
“If we had had another day,” said Kasper, who was in Paris with Acosta for the talks, “we would’ve gotten it done.”
Although suitors, as early as this summer, would not have to pay for Acosta’s rights, Kasper said he is expecting to receive formal offers. In other words, he believes teams would be willing to pay and not risk losing Acosta to a competitor.
“I think there will be a lot of demand for him,” Kasper said. “I think there will be clubs willing to pay a pretty good transfer fee with six months to go on his contract.”
If United sold him this summer, the organization would have the flexibility to apply the proceeds toward acquiring a new player right away or next offseason. In anticipation of Acosta’s possible departure in the next year, United this winter acquired another young Argentine midfielder, Lucas Rodriguez, who is playing on the flank but could move inside.
Acosta, 24, earned $652,000 last year. A new deal in MLS probably would yield at least $2 million annually.
He is in his fourth season in Washington, but until last year, he had underachieved. Wayne Rooney’s arrival last summer brought out the best in him — nine goals and 10 assists in the last 20 matches — and lit a fire under the enigmatic player.
“Everyone sees the goals and assists, but the players see the difference in the work rate,” Rooney said. “After the first two games, we spoke to him about his work rate needing to be a bit higher. Since speaking to him, his energy and defending has been fantastic.”
The performances lifted Acosta’s value on the international market, which, until a few years ago, barely existed for MLS players. United’s only notable outgoing transfer was midfielder-defender Andy Najar to Belgium’s Anderlecht in January 2013.
“Paris Saint-Germain, one of the top teams in the world, and I am sitting at their table, which was unthinkable 10 years ago,” Kasper said. “That’s where our league is going. Those are the eyes on our players.”
United officials were not sure how Acosta would react to the failed talks with PSG, a dream destination for most players.
“He was gutted. He was devastated,” Kasper said of the hours after the transfer deadline passed. "I am shocked he came back [to training camp] right away. We asked him: ‘What do you want to do? Do you want to take a couple days off?’ He said, ‘No, I want to get back to training.’ "
In United’s opener Sunday night, Acosta had a goal and an assist in a 2-0 victory over defending MLS Cup champion Atlanta at Audi Field.
Since the PSG saga, Acosta has not granted an extended interview. After Sunday’s match, he said through an interpreter, “When it didn’t go through, I tried to be as mature as possible and responsible as possible to give everything for this club it deserves.”
Rooney, Manchester United’s greatest scorer, on Tuesday offered high praise for his teammate: “I’ve been lucky enough to play with a lot of top players. He is up there.”
Rooney said his chemistry with Acosta last summer was similar to the bond he quickly built with Carlos Tevez in 2007, when the Argentine attacker joined him at Manchester United.
Rooney said, “Same thing with Luciano: He doesn’t speak great English, but on the pitch, the understanding was there.”
As for how Acosta would fare in a bigger league, Rooney said: “He is good enough to play in any team. He could go into Manchester City, Manchester United. He has the quality.”
Rooney paused and, perhaps fretting Acosta’s departure during this season of high hopes for D.C. United, then joked, “Hopefully, he doesn’t.”
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