FC Cincinnati’s uneasy marriage with Brenner is coming to a close. The star striker is reportedly being transferred to Udinese, a club in Serie A, Italy’s top division, at the beginning of July. After arriving from Brazil ahead of the 2021 season for a reported $13 million, the 23-year-old has apparently received his long-awaited move to a top European league.
Though FC Cincinnati likely won’t recoup all of the $13 million it shelled out for Brenner, the transfer fee—which has not yet been made public—will reportedly rank among MLS’s 10 most expensive outbound transfers ever. Cincinnati stands to receive at least $9.5 million if that report is accurate, and it’s likely the Orange and Blue will retain a percentage of any future sale.
Brenner will leave behind a complicated legacy. Playing with below-average support, he endured a disappointing rookie season, tallying just eight goals on 24 shots on target. He then missed most of the 2022 preseason waiting for a green card and suffered a back injury after returning stateside. Disappointed at being relegated to a bench role behind Dominique Badji, he asked for a transfer to Brazil in early April. Things didn’t look so rosy.
Three months later, Brenner was one of the league’s best players. In a performance that will go down in FC Cincinnati lore, he notched a massively impressive hat trick against reigning MLS champion New York City FC. He also had two other did-he-just-do-that scores narrowly ruled out for offsides. Brenner combined wonderfully with striker partner Brandon Vazquez, and the two became the first set of teammates to score 18 goals in a single MLS season.
Brenner was named Player of the Week three times, the last for a three-goal, one-assist display on Decision Day that propelled Cincinnati to its first playoff berth. Yet he was largely anonymous in the playoff win at New York Red Bulls—his backup, Sergio Santos, delivered the game-winning assist—and the Eastern Conference semifinal defeat in Philadelphia.
Ahead of the close of the recent European transfer window, FC Cincinnati rejected bids from Udinese and English Premier League side Nottingham Forest, deeming them too low for their prized striker. Brenner wound up missing three weeks of training across January and February tending to a family issue in Brazil. Like Vazquez, he’s off to a slow start in 2023, with just a single goal on nine shots on target in seven matches played.
Brenner did not suit up in FC Cincinnati’s first loss of 2023, a 5-1 pasting last weekend at the hands of expansion team St. Louis City. It’s unclear if he will play in Saturday night’s home match against the Portland Timbers.
Despite ownership’s financial muscle, it’s fair to wonder if FC Cincinnati will ever dole out a transfer fee that comes close to the reported $13 million the franchise paid for Brenner, which was completed under former General Manager Gerard Nijkamp. Under current GM Chris Albright, FCC has spent money, but in smaller increments in combination with efficient use of all of its spending resources. Albright used General Allocation Money to nab Junior Moreno, paid $3 million for Obinna Nwobodo, and forked over Targeted Allocation Money for Matt Miazga. He took Roman Celentano No. 2 overall in the 2022 SuperDraft and acquired Yerson Mosquera on loan from the English Premier League.
Having been with FC Cincinnati since October 2021, Albright is well-versed in the ups and downs of Brenner’s tenure in Orange and Blue. He’s had more than enough time to line up potential replacements this summer. Though Badji and Santos will likely be the immediate recipients of Brenner’s minutes come July, the Brazilian’s departure will also open a Young Designated Player slot for Albright to presumably secure a young, on-the-rise striker.
In the meantime, FC Cincinnati must collect itself following the shellacking in St. Louis. In a sign of the franchise’s upswing, Celentano, Miazga, and Vazquez were called up for the U.S. men’s national team’s match tonight vs. Mexico in Glendale, Arizona. A proud moment for the franchise also casts doubt on the trio’s availability for Saturday’s Portland match.
Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.