At long last, Aaron Boupendza is officially a member of FC Cincinnati. We’re still not sure when he will make his debut on the field but, now that the transfer is complete, it’s time to consider what he’ll will bring to a FCC team competing for trophies.
What Boupendza Adds As A Goalscorer
In the past three seasons, Boupendza played in three leagues in three countries for three different teams. From Hatayspor in the Turkish Süper Lig, to Al-Arabi in the Qatar Stars League, to Al-Shabab in the Saudi Pro League most recently. In all those stops, Boupendza has shown an ability to take shots from dangerous positions.
A modern striker has to play a lot of roles but ultimately, putting the ball in the back of the net is the biggest difference between winning and losing. Boupendza’s knack for being in dangerous spots and taking shots should lead to optimism for what he can do in Orange and Blue.
We can talk about levels of competition between his last three professional stops and MLS. But 0.49 xG per 90 minutes over nearly 5,700 minutes is very good production from a striker. It’s not elite but if he was, frankly, he’d be on his way to a different league. To add some MLS context, Boupendza’s 0.49 xG/90 compares favorably to Hany Mukhtar (0.49), Julian Carranza (0.48), Dejan Jovelijic (0.48), and Dennis Bouaga (0.47) in 2023. Dropping that kind of goal production onto the Orange and Blue should be a huge benefit.
Boupendza’s signing marks the second foray into the Turkish Süper Lig for Chris Albright and the FCC front office. The easy transition for Obinna Nwobodo between the Süper Lig and MLS seems to be an important factor.
On the scouting process that led FCC to Boupendza, “We used a lot of the data from Turkey, and the success that he had in Turkey and we did a lot of sort of comparative work around Turkey and the MLS when we signed Obi and so that really informed a lot of what we thought Aaron could be in MLS having already kind of done that legwork” said Albright.
Boupendza’s 2020-21 season at Hatayspor when he won the Golden Boot with 22 goals looks great on the stat sheet. Just two of Boupendza’s goals that season came from the penalty spot but he almost certainly ran hot, overperforming his expected goals by more than 7 goals. This isn’t to say that Boupendza’s underlying numbers were bad, they just didn’t reflect a striker threatening to score 20 goals but, as noted above, if Boupendza can replicate the kind of production he’s had throughout his career for FCC, this transfer will be a major coup.
Digging in a little deeper to Boupendza’s shot numbers provides insight into his game, too. Sergio Santos leads the Orange and Blue in 2023 averaging 3.77 shots per 90 minutes. Brandon Vazquez is averaging 2.56 shots per 90 minutes. In the past three seasons, Boupendza has averaged over 3.5 shots per 90 minutes twice, and though that number was down this season, 3.11 shots/90 would still be a major addition to the Orange and Blue’s offensive ceiling.
What do those shots look like? Well, there’s good news and bad news (unless you really like speculative efforts from distance). The positive first. Boupendza has a proven ability to find the ball in shooting positions in the penalty area. From his highlights, it’s clear he can beat defenders with a touch or two or hit first time shots.
The downside to his shot chart should be clear just looking at it.
Some of these shots from distance are almost certainly logged incorrectly in Wyscout. Many are not. A cursory review of his highlights make one thing clear: Boupendza is a gunner. Let’s say, hypothetically, there’s an opportunity to try to chip the keeper from just across the halfway line. Well, Boupendza has shown that he’s probably going to try to chip the keeper.
Will there be moments when he’ll uncork a shot from way too far? Almost certainly. But his ability to take lots of good shots should make up for any not-so-great decisions from further out. And if he scores one or two, I won’t complain, either.
An unanswered question will be if those shots were the result of structural issues with his former team. Even if they aren’t, Boupendza’s ability to find the ball in dangerous positions, and to do it over and over and over, will help the Orange and Blue down the stretch run and for seasons to come.
Albright singled out Boupendza’s ability to be consistently dangerous when asked about his upside in MLS. “He’s a player who has shown an ability to score goals in everywhere he’s gone and scoring goals in our game is the most important thing and it’s the hardest thing to do.” Albright continued, “And so we feel that, again, we haven’t had a significant or much at all of a contribution from our DP #9 this year and we’re still in the position we’re in and so I feel this move is very additive, I don’t feel this is a big replacement, I think this is just a great addition to our group and he gives us an opportunity to win games in different ways.”
Goals win games and the Orange and Blue have won a lot of games in the first half of the season with less-than-hoped-for production from its strikers. The addition of Boupendza should provide another option who finds consistently dangerous positions. That should certainly help as FCC chase the Supporters’ Shield.
Other Than Scoring
Outside of his direct contributions on goal, Boupendza hasn’t proven to be a reliable option setting him teammates up for shots. Over the past three seasons, he’s averaged just 0.09 expected assists per 90 minutes. That’s okay for a striker but supporters shouldn’t expect him to be another game breaking option for teammates with the ball at his feet in the final third.
A quick review of his highlights reveals something else, though, something I really appreciate as a viewer: a willingness to try stuff. Backheels and little flicks pop up over and over in Boupendza’s game. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. But when he finally gets on the field with Lucho Acosta and Álvaro Barreal, FCC should be the unquestioned sauciest team in MLS.
The Roster Perspective
Boupendza will occupy a full Designated Player spot on FCC’s roster and that comes with roster ramifications for the 2023 roster and into the future.
At the club press conference Albright outlined their strategy. “We could have added a youth DP, that would have given us the three U22 slots, and not to bore you with all the MLS capology stuff, but we thought someone that had a little bit more of a proven record would give our team, our fans a chance to…maybe take a shot at something a little bit sooner than maybe we thought we could” said Albright.
He isn’t old, either. Boupendza is 26, turning 27 next month, so still fully in his prime as a player and won’t be leaving it anytime soon. MLS advantages teams able to maximize roster resources and Albright is undeniably sacrificing roster mechanisms that could make the team better. However, the uneven contributions by U22 players across the league and the uncertainty of FCC’s core beyond even this season provides more than enough justification for Albright to prioritize the short-term.