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Nicolás Acevedo is NYCFC’s unsung hero

The midfielder isn't flashy. Yet his contributions were critical in 2022, and are of increasing importance as NYCFC chases another MLS Cup.

Cacha is NYCFC's Johnny on the spot | NYCFC

Welcome to the latest edition of Hot Take, in which a Hudson River Blue contributor takes a highly subjective stand on a topic and gives you their deeply biased opinion.

Nicolás Acevedo stepped his game up in a big way during NYCFC’s late-season surge. He helped stabilized a midfield that was at times decimated by injuries, adeptly covering for the absences of Alfredo Morales and Keaton Parks — not to mention the departed James Sands. Since interim manager Nick Cushing made his much-discussed formation switch to a fluid three-to-five at the back system, Acevedo has made the midfield destroyer role his own and turned in some of his best performances since joining the club. 

Maxi Moralez might have scored two beauties in the playoffs, and Sean Johnson’s acrobatics in goal saved the game against CF Montréal, but Acevedo is the unsung hero who has done the invisible work that makes the rest of the team look good. 

The man they call Cacha has steadily grown into a lineup staple since arriving in 2020 from Liverpool (not that one) in his native Uruguay for a reported $2.65 million fee. Acevedo has appeared in 41 of the team’s 46 matches to date in 2022, with his health and defensive reliability proving vital to the team’s success. Multiple injury outbreaks and a lack of new signings have even seen Acevedo fill in as a makeshift right back, but he has really blossomed while playing his natural defensive midfielder role. 

Early in The Cushing Era, it was hard to find the positives in Acevedo’s game. He struggled when paired with both Alfredo Morales and Justin Haak in a double pivot, and didn’t seem to be much of a solution to the club’s midfield or fullback woes. David Lee’s decision not to bring in reinforcements ahead of the transfer deadline looked to be a dubious one.

That perception changed when Cushing changed the team’s setup. Slotting Cacha in as the sole defensive midfielder in front of a back three has worked wonders for NYCFC and appears to have brought the best out of Acevedo. He and Maxi Moralez, the formation’s only central midfielders, have both channeled their Small Man Strength and helped NYCFC control the middle of the park. 

The transformation started in NYCFC’s frustrating 1-1 draw with FC Cincinnati at Citi Field and has rolled on since, with Acevedo consistently doing the midfield dirty work while also helping NYCFC transition from defense to attack thanks to his reliability as a forward passer. Per FBref, Acevedo is in the 90th percentile of MLS midfielders for tackles, interceptions, and blocks per 90 minutes, and also the 81st percentile for progressive passes. These individual strengths have helped the collective while NYCFC has been lined up in a 3-4-3, with Acevedo seeming to benefit from the clarity of knowing he’s the one responsible for shielding that back line and moving the ball forward when it comes to him.

While still not recording any official assists, he’s played parts in the build-up of some of the team’s more important goals scored since September, particularly both goals in the Campeones Cup and the beautiful team goal that iced the playoff victory over Inter Miami

Acevedo is the least flashy and attention-grabbing of NYCFC’s coterie of young South American talent. Yet his contributions have been critical throughout the season, and are of increasing importance as the club chases another MLS Cup. While Santiago Rodriguez and Gabriel Pereira have been getting the goals and assists, Acevedo’s play behind them has been key, even if it doesn’t come through as clearly on stat sheets. 

With NYCFC again needing to win three straight road matches to hoist that Cup, being defensively solid is of extreme importance. Alfredo Morales, who started all of NYCFC’s late-season matches en route to winning the 2021 Cup, has been besieged by injuries in 2022. James Sands is in Scotland, Keaton Parks has been eased back into the game since undergoing his second surgery for a blood clot, and Justin Haak didn’t do enough to grab hold of a midfield spot despite getting a number of chances to this summer.

That has made Acevedo the last DM standing. His level of performance has ticked upwards as the season has gone on. No matter how far NYCFC’s playoff run goes this season, Acevedo’s improved play is a great development for the club’s roster building ahead of 2023. He clearly has believers at NYCFC considering he received a contract extension that runs through 2025, and his performances of late have solidified his standing toward the top of the midfield depth chart. 

Durability concerns will linger over both Alfredo Morales and Keaton Parks if they’re back in Bronx Blue in 2023, and it’s unclear what other comings and goings may occur among midfielders. Having the solid consistency of Cacha Acevedo to rely on has done wonders for the 2022 squad, and he seems poised to continue to grow if given more chances in 2023.