Playmaker vs Playfaker - Lucho Acosta vs Siem de Jong
Editor's Note: this was written after the Atlanta United match, so all stats will be based on performances up until then
Last season, FC Cincinnati brought in Siem De Jong to be the #10. It is hard to be overly critical of him, as FCC were systematically dysfunctional, but him ending the season with zero goal contributions was disappointing, especially as he was a high TAM player.
This season, FC Cincinnati brought in Luciano Acosta. Although he is frustrating at times, he has still been excellent overall and already has seven goal contributions in only 11 games. He has had exactly the sort of impact that FCC needed from their DP #10.
So let's compare the two!
Siem De Jong’s Player Profile
De Jong has always been a complex player positionally. He is not a “traditional #10”, which is partly an explanation for why he struggled so mightily at FCC. De Jong has excelled when played as a shadow striker, where he is able to receive knock downs in the box and not be asked to link play from deep, where his physical attributes can be exploited.
De Jong needs players who can link play behind him and compensate for his lack of pace. Last year, at FCC, this was not the case. Thus, his performances can be partly attributed to the fact that FCC’s system did not optimize his skill set.
FCC played a myriad of formations last year, although De Jong featured most prevalently in a 5-3-2 and a 4-2-3-1. In the 4-2-3-1, he struggled mightily, as he was asked to play on the half turn and receive progressive passes from the likes of Haris Medunjanin, which is something that he struggles to do. In the 5-3-2, De Jong usually played as a second striker and was asked to drift wide and make runs into the channels, which does not suit his playstyle either.
De Jong’s Fbref profile categorizes him as a forward and is from a sample size of 702 minutes. His defensive actions were solid, which was likely because FCC were defending for most of the game. His solid technical numbers are down to the fact that he was playing deeper to link play, while his shooting and assist numbers reflect how impotent FCC were going forward.
Overall, De Jong is a complex player who requires a specific environment to succeed. FCC did not play to his strengths in any way, and his performances were an indication of a conflict between the way he is optimized and how FCC used him.
Luciano Acosta’s player profile
Luciano Acosta could not be a more different kind of #10 compared to Siem De Jong. Acosta is a positionally fluid player with an incredibly high dribbling output, who is a bit erratic in his movement. He needs to be put into a position in which he can drift around the field and occupy different zones, without much of a defensive responsibility.
Acosta is sort of emblematic of how FCC have looked this year. Great attacking movements, moments of great pressing, but also sort of hard to pinpoint tactically. This is part of the reason that Acosta thrives in FCC’s chaotic tactical system.
When he was at his best for D.C United, Acosta played up front with Wayne Rooney in a 4-4-2. This gave him the freedom to drift around the field without a rigid role defensively. Acosta is excellent at pressing and wins an impressive number of duels considering his size, but you still do not want him stuck in a positionally specific defensive system, considering his tendency to overcommit and leave other midfielders exposed.
Acosta’s erraticism is why he also needs players around him to alleviate his weakness. Acosta is not efficient at keeping possession and does not always make the right decision, which is why teams that he is on can struggle to keep possession. To compensate for this, FCC need reliable ball progressor’s from deep (which certainly is not Kubo nor Cruz).
His tendency to occupy multiple different zones can also make specific attacking movements more difficult to accomplish. But FCC’s lack of connectivity between its defense, midfield, and attack have also allowed Acosta to receive the ball in areas with a ton of space, where he can carry the ball and attack defenders on the dribble.
Acosta’s Fbref profile has him listed as a midfielder instead of an attacking mid/winger. Either way, his statistical profile is great, bar his passing completion percentage, which is reflective of his tendency to overcomplicate things at times.
While his underlying numbers are good, the stats are also an indicator that FCC are overly dependent on Acosta for creating attacks.
Why De Jong failed, and Acosta has not
Luciano Acosta is more adaptable to differing tactical systems than Siem De Jong. Acosta excels in FCC’s end-to-end style as it gives him the freedom to roam the field and influence the game from a ton of different positions. De Jong on the other hand, must be placed into a specific system that plays to his strengths in order to succeed.
Due to these factors, and because Acosta is just a better player, one has succeeded, and the other did not. Acosta is superior to De Jong in basically every statistical category when looking at both players’ time at FCC.
Although Acosta has performed well, FCC need to find ways to alleviate his weaknesses within their system. His chaotic nature and tactical erraticism can create issues that weaken the functionality of the system, even if he is playing well and getting goal contributions.
De Jong on the other hand, was never going to excel at FCC, and should not have been signed in the first place. Hopefully, the club will continue to deviate from the policy of signing older Europeans such as him, as almost none of them have worked out and have caused serious salary cap issues.