Brenner – Where do we go from here?

After rumors, failed discussions and trips back home to Brazil, Brenner has finally been awarded his dream move into European football courtesy of a $10M transfer offer from mid-table Serie A club Udinese. With this, Chris Albright and Pat Noonan will finally be gifted one of the most coveted MLS roster flexibility chips a front office can have, an open Young Designated Player spot.

The ability to add a new high-profile player will surely have FCC fans on the edge of their seats, staring at Twitter on their phones, waiting to see how a competently managed FC Cincinnati decides to use this precious asset. Here is my clearly unbiased opinion on how FCC should spend their newfound wealth.

Option A:

Whether or not you feel this is the best option, I may get booed off the website if I don’t lead off with replacing a Young DP striker with … you guessed it! ANOTHER Young DP striker.

This option is not only the most convenient answer, but it also makes sense. The club is currently left with Brandon Vazquez, Dom Badji, Quimi Ordonez and Sergio Santos at the position. With Noonan favoring the 3-5-2 formation with two strikers up top, this does not leave much depth. It’s likely Albright will look to add to the position, but why does it need to be a high-level player? The answer lies in the inconsistency and questions the current group provides.

Vazquez is easily a fan favorite. Last year his 18 goals and eight assists were both career-bests. It was also the first time in his career in which he started a majority of the matches he played in (32/33). The recent USMNT call-up has not had a start to this season similar to his end of last. Last year, Vazquez averaged 0.81 assists and goals per start, versus this season being at a 0.33 average through 9 matches. Although still very early in the season, we have yet to see if last season was a standout performance, or the first of many to come.

Badji and Santos have both been around MLS for a handful of years. This does not necessarily mean they have the same flashy numbers you have seen from Vazquez and Brenner in 2022. Badji’s best season came in 2017 when he scored nine times and assisted four over 33 matches (29 starts). That comes to a 0.45 average goals and assists per start, just over half of Vazquez’s production last season. 

Sergio Santos has shown promise at times this season and throughout his career. The one undeniably impressive dynamic he brings to the squad, which cannot be taught, is speed. Santos has also shown he has the ability to fit in and produce alongside Vazquez and in front of Lucho Acosta.

The one glaring downfall to trusting Santos is the injury bug. It has been said that the greatest ability is availABILITY, and unfortunately, Santos has struggled with that at times. Although, with eight goals and two assists in 15 starts in 2022, for an average of 0.66 goals and assists per start, and four goals and one assist to begin this season (three starts over nine matches), there are glimpses of promise in this player. Also, I believe I speak for many FCC fans when I say he has passed the eyeball test early on this year. 

Option B:

This option goes wayyyy back, nearly to the back line. With Acosta at attacking mid, that position is set in stone. With Obi Nwobodo and Yuya Kubo both on expensive contracts, along with young talent such as Marco Angulo and Malik Pinto already getting playing time, the midfield has both star power and upcoming potential present.

In MLS, few teams use their DP spot on a center back, and with Matt Miazga, Nick Hagglund, Yerson Mosquera (for now) and Ian Murphy, it’s hard to see a need in using a DP spot here. That leads to the wing back position. It appears that Noonan is committed to the 3-5-2, which means there is an importance on wing backs who can produce offensively while being able to get back and cover their position on defense.

Luckily, the emergence of Alvaro Barreal has led to a sense of ease and optimism when it comes to the left back position. Right back though, is still very much up in the air. 

FCC currently has Santiago Arias, Ray Gaddis and Alvas Powell rotating into that spot. To say that none of the three have claimed the job full-time is an understatement.

Arias, the former Atletico Madrid defender, certainly has the pedigree to excel. The issue is he’s coming off a serious injury that led him to have to find an opportunity in MLS. Although we all love MLS, you have to accept the league is a couple of steps below La Liga, leading to questions on his ability to ever fully recover to the form he had before. Coming off injury, there will be many questions about his ability to stay healthy and be a 90-minute fit for a whole season. 

Tuck it in! Gaddis was drug out of retirement by Albright and Noonan to help fill a void on this roster. Knowing that does very little to bolster confidence in his ability to stay fit for a whole season and produce at a level needed to help this club reach the heights it hopes to this season. If Gaddis does stay fit, he is a solid player on the defensive end, but leaves much to be desired offensively having never had more than one assist in a season. I’m by no means a soccer savant, but with a three center back formation, I would believe it necessary to get more production from the wing back position than Gaddis has shown the ability to provide. 

That all leads to a player who FCC fans know well, Alvas Powell. Powell is back at FCC for a second stint following his time served in 2019. Having returned to the club for a second run, and not seeing a single start over seven appearances despite the struggles to keep Arias on the field leads me to believe that Pat Noonan does not see Powell as a reliable option at the right back position.

My opinion:

I am one of the many fans who is excited to see who will become Noonan and Albright’s next Designated Player signing at FC Cincinnati. I believe using the DP slot on a striker makes sense and could be fruitful for the club. Imagine a new Brenner except he isn’t overvalued, comes into a competent squad, produces, and is sold for more than $10 million. That would certainly be the sexy option, and one many fans could get behind.

The more adventurous option is using the spot on a right back. What Noonan is doing to develop Barreal into a true left back has been nothing short of impressive. Now imagine the same level of production (three assists over nine matches) on the opposite side, paired with the threat of Lucho up the middle. This would leave opposing clubs in shambles trying to game plan on how to stop the FCC attack.

Although using the DP spot in this way does leave open the question, who is going to be on the receiving end of the provided service? This option would best be suited for you, if you believe that these plentiful service opportunities simply just need a striker on the end of them, rather than THE striker, which is what you’re paying for with a DP spot. 

In the end, this is an exciting time to be an FC Cincinnati fan. Sure, seeing a star player such as Brenner leave can leave a sour taste in the mouths of fans who are less familiar with how squad development works in the beautiful game. I assure you, seeing players leave for bigger opportunities abroad is not only something you will see again, but it’s something you should welcome.

These players only get bigger opportunities because they are producing for clubs such as FC Cincinnati. In the end, if players produce for the club, the club succeeds. The question then becomes, how does the front office fill the void that is left, which is how we have arrived at the crossroads we currently find ourselves. Stay tuned in to your local soccer media outlets, there are exciting times on the horizon.

-Guest commentary: Kevin Lykins

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