Why Álvaro Barreal Is Crucial to FC Cincinnati’s Future

The 20-year-old Argentinian has finally been cleared to play and could become the face of the franchise in the next few years.

On October 6, FC Cincinnati posted a video of its newest signing, winger Álvaro Barreal, training with the club. (I’m the last person who should be dishing out viewpoints on hair—considering family history, I’m simply grateful the hair on my head continues to grow—but I’m digging Barreal’s clean-cut platinum blonde look.) The 20-year-old was acquired in early September from Club Atlético Velez Sarsfield in Argentina. At the time of his signing, FCC General Manager Gerard Nijkamp said, “In our opinion, Álvaro Barreal is this type of potential talent who can compete within our squad and must now take the next step in his career at FC Cincinnati.”

Take note of that last sentence. In recent years, Major League Soccer has come to grips with the reality that MLS must be more of a “selling league” to strengthen the financial positions of both the individual teams and the league as a whole. High-profile departures like Vancouver’s Alphonso Davies, now arguably the world’s top left back at Bayern Munich—as well as Atlanta playmaker Miguel Almirón to English Premier League side Newcastle United and New York Red Bulls midfielder Tyler Adams to Champions League semi-finalist RB Leipzig—are an indication of that new strategy, even if MLS still lags behind many other leagues around the world in selling talent up the ladder, so to speak.

If everything goes to plan for FC Cincinnati, Barreal will spend three to four seasons with the Orange and Blue, fueling the club’s transition from doormat to perennial playoff contender while bagging goals, dishing out assists, and racking up victories at the new West End Stadium. And then, when his star has reached its MLS apex, FC Cincinnati will sell him to a high-profile club in Europe and reinvest the savings to buy the next two to three Barreals. That’s the way the game works. Just ask the Philadelphia Union, tonight’s opponent; their star player, 19-year-old Brenden Aaronson, is being sold to one of Austria’s top club’s, RB Salzburg.

Barreal has already represented his home country internationally, playing with Argentina’s under-20 team at the 2018 COTIF Tournament, a global youth competition. He scored two goals in five games, and Argentina won the tournament. In 2016, the Argentines placed second in the same competition, and a striker you may have heard of was named MVP: Lautaro Martínez. Flash forward a few years, and Martínez has 23 goals in 65 games for Italian power Inter Milan, despite having just completed his age-22 season.

I’m not suggesting Barreal is the next Martínez. One, they play different positions. Two, Martínez was much further along in his development when he was Barreal’s age, evidenced by his 22.7-million Euro move to Inter in July 2018. Barreal’s transfer fee to FC Cincinnati was reportedly around $1.7 million.

My larger point is that Barreal represents Nijkamp’s thoughts on the present and (immediate) future as he builds FCC’s roster. Last season’s major offseason additions were established attacking players in the prime or post-prime (or perhaps even the downslope) of their careers. The signing of Barreal is intended to help the club immediately—though expectations for the rest of 2020 should be tempered—and in the near future. The move also represents FCC’s second major investment in the Latin American market after the club signed Allan Cruz, then 22, out of Costa Rica prior to the 2019 campaign. Barreal is the franchise’s first significant investment in a South American prospect.

In order to take the field for the Orange and Blue, Barreal had to receive a visa and complete a mandatory quarantine period under local and MLS health protocols. Everything must be shipshape, because he could play tonight. “He can join for the games,” head coach Jaap Stam said this week. “We’ve done everything in terms of protocol, and he’s been in training sessions.”

If Barreal does see the field, it would be the second straight game a recent FC Cincinnati signing debuted. Midfielder Kamohelo Mokotjo, who joined the club on Aug. 20, was a late substitute against Minnesota last weekend. At minimum, video of Barreal training and the possibility of his debut provides goal-starved FC Cincinnati fans something to daydream about.

Following the 2-0 setback at Minnesota, FCC has netted five points and a measly two goals in 10 matches since the MLS Is Back tournament. After running up a 558-minute goalless streak not too long ago, FC Cincinnati have now gone 294 minutes sans a score. Perhaps Barreal’s platinum blonde locks will bring FC Cincinnati positive scoring vibes in the City of Brotherly Love and back home at Nippert Stadium Sunday against Toronto.

Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. Off the pitch, he is the associate editor for Signs of the Times magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.

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