FC Cincinnati GM Chris Albright said the quiet part out loud during Aaron Boupendza’s unveiling last week. Instead of signing a young, up-and-coming striker to replace Brenner, a talent the club could eventually flip to a European league—like Cincinnati did with Brenner—Albright, head coach Pat Noonan, and FCC chose a more proven commodity in the 26-year-old Boupendza.
“We could’ve added a youth [Designated Player],” said Albright. “But we thought someone with 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. All of a sudden where we sit today, we can’t deny that we have a couple of opportunities out in front of us. So yeah, it definitely affected how we addressed this.”
With FC Cincinnati pursuing trophies on three fronts, Albright acknowledged the truth. As vital as it is that Cincinnati becomes a consistent winner in MLS, seasons in which multiple trophies are attainable don’t come around often. The Orange and Blue are not only built to win now, but they could possibly make history in 2023.
A 3-1 triumph over nine-man Nashville last Saturday evening gives FCC 51 points on the season, tied for a MLS record tally through 23 matches. Eight points clear of New England in the East and 10 points clear of St. Louis in the West, Cincinnati is on track for its first-ever Supporters’ Shield crown—a ticket to home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The feat would be a welcome reward for a club unbeaten in 15 home matches.
Further, FC Cincinnati requires just two more victories to claim the U.S. Open Cup. The Leagues Cup, slated to begin this weekend, presents a third avenue for silverware in 2023.
Back to Boupendza. The $7-million signing scored on his debut Saturday evening, shedding his jersey during a euphoric second-half stoppage-time celebration. The Gabon native is cut from a different striker cloth than the departed Brenner. First, Boupendza looks like he could play slot corner for Lou Anarumo’s Bengals’ defense.
Apart from his physique, Boupendza is a far more experienced and successful goal scorer, too. While Brenner made 61 appearances across four seasons in Brazil prior to his transfer to Cincinnati, Boupendza has nearly 150 professional appearances and 63 goals to his name. He led the Turkish first division in scoring during the 2020-21 season. The left-footer isn’t afraid to fire off shots from anywhere on the pitch.
While Brenner had his faults as an out-and-out No. 9, however, he was an exceptional link-up player, reflected in his six assists in 2022. During his prolific 2020-21 season, Boupendza registered just one assist. It will be fascinating to see how FC Cincinnati’s new trident of Boupendza, Lucho Acsota, and Brandon Vazquez functions as the hub of the team’s attack.
At minimum, Boupendza should help FC Cincinnati turn more one-goal victories—no one in MLS has more—into multi-goal triumphs, as he did against Nashville. The quicker he acclimates, the lesser the load for Acosta. Though the All-Star Game captain and MVP candidate is in the form of his life (12 goals, 8 assists), Cincinnati needs to develop more consistent goal-scoring and chance-creating options.
Boupendza’s place in the depth chart was never in question, but with Dominique Badji out indefinitely with a quad injury and Sergio Santos’ constant injury woes, the ramp-up period might be a little shorter than Noonan envisioned. After this year, Vazquez seems like a cinch to move on to Europe, even if Borussia Mönchengladbach, the German first division side seemingly infatuated with Vazquez, appears to have moved on (for now).
Vazquez, Miazga return to starting XI after USMNT duty
Miazga and Vazquez both featured in the U.S. Men’s National Team’s stunning Gold Cup semifinal loss last week to Panama. Vazquez earned his first start of the tournament but never came close to scoring in his 74 minutes. Miazga came off the bench in the second half and also converted his penalty kick during the free kick round, where the U.S. lost 5-4.
With Badji injured and Boupendza not fully fit, Vazquez was thrust straight back into the starting XI Saturday. The same went for Miazga, whose odds of starting increased after Ian Murphy’s latest red card in the 2-1 midweek win over New York Red Bulls. FC Cincinnati wound up going 2-1-2 (wins-losses-draws) without Vazquez and Miazga.
A historic comeback in New Jersey
Without Vazquez, Miazga, Badji, Boupendza, and Yuya Kubo, FC Cincinnati flat-out stole three points in New Jersey last week, winning for the first time in its MLS history after trailing at halftime. Even Noonan missed the NY Red Bulls match, away from the team for personal reasons after the recent passing of his father. Cincinnati started two academy players (Quimi Ordóñez and Malik Pinto) and had a freshly minted short-term promotion from FC Cincinnati 2 (Benjamin Stitz) appear as a substitute.
Acosta scored an 80th minute penalty before Obinna Nwobdo scored with a fair bit of fortune in the 93rd minute. A lucky win? Sure, especially considering Nwobodo’s goal. But Cincinnati battled back down a legion of regulars and an unlucky first-half penalty call against Nick Hagglund. A point would have been good, but a win was excellent in a gutty showing. Victories like this one tend to confirm a thought that FC Cincinnati, as talented and well-coached as they are, are living a charmed existence—and there’s nothing wrong with that!
Next up is the first of two Leagues Cup group stage matches at TQL Stadium. FC Cincinnati takes on Sporting Kansas City (11th in West) Sunday before Liga MX side Chivas Guadalajara visits next Wednesday. The top two teams from the group advance to the round of 32.
Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.