Five Things to Know Before FC Cincinnati Kicks off Its 2023 Season

The team’s best lineup ever is poised for glory, from another playoff run to possibly even a tournament trophy.

Following a breakthrough 2022 campaign, FC Cincinnati has the opportunity to ascend to heights that would have been inconceivable a year ago. After seeing a pair of players named to MLS’s Best XI, more than doubling its previous season total in points (49), and claiming a come-from-behind victory in the franchise’s first MLS playoff appearance, FCC can quell any concerns about the viability of the plan established by head coach Pat Noonan and General Manager Chris Albright with an even better 2023.

This year should feature a better defense, another splendid season from its attacking trident—at least in the remaining matches they have together—and not only another playoff appearance but a home postseason match at TQL Stadium. Maybe they’ll even reach the Eastern Conference Finals. This club is talented enough and deep enough to dream big. Seriously!

Here are five things to know as FC Cincinnati’s 2023 journey begins Saturday night with a home match against Houston.

Brenner is back, but not for long

Even after arriving in Cincinnati for a reported $13 million ahead of the 2021 season, Brenner has been clear about his desire to move on to European club football. FC Cincinnati was always going to be a stepping stone for the up-and-coming young striker. Now, after a pair of failed January transfers, Brenner must work himself back into match fitness.

FC Cincinnati received multiple bids last month for its 23-year-old Brazilian target man, notably from Nottingham Forest of the English Premier League and Udinese of Italy’s top league, Serie A. FCC deemed both offers too low and reportedly assured Brenner that it will try to move him during the summer transfer window.

Brenner trained alone leading up to the potential move to Nottingham Forest, then returned to Brazil to attend to a family matter. He came back to the U.S. a few days ago, meaning he missed three weeks of training and preseason game action. Much like last season, Brenner will likely find himself on the bench to start the MLS season before a transfer across the Atlantic in June or July.

Brenner tallied 18 goals and six assists in 2022, but his campaign got off to a rocky start. After battling visa issues and an injury, he was riding the bench until Dominique Badji got hurt. Brenner seized the opportunity, combining with Lucho Acota and Brandon Vazquez to form Major League Soccer’s most imposing attacking trio, notching 46 of the team’s 64 league goals.

Over the last handful of years, MLS has fully embraced its spot as a waystation for younger players around the globe to arrive for modest transfer fees, ball out, and then move on to bigger and better things abroad. Half of the league’s 10 most expensive outbound transfers have occurred over the past two years. That money is (in theory) reinvested in development and buying new players. Rinse and repeat.

FC Cincinnati does have in-house Brenner insurance with Sergio Santos, who arrived at the tail end of last season and reportedly impressed during the club’s preseason in Florida. Badji is also back to provide cover for the Orange and Blue, too.

Is the defense any better?

FC Cincinnati scored the second-most goals in the East a season ago, but its goal differential was only plus-8 because the defense conceded the third-most goals in the conference. Let’s start at center back, where instead of replicating the departed Geoff Cameron’s experience, Albright has opted for youth. Matt Miazga has nearly recovered from offseason surgery and will improve the team’s season-long defensive fortunes after the former Chelsea man joined up last August. Nick Hagglund returns after starting 31 league matches in 2022. Those two are safe bets to regularly occupy two of the three center back roles in Noonan’s preferred 3-5-2 setup.

The other options include Ian Murphy, who racked up nearly 1,500 minutes as a rookie and started FCC’s 1-0 loss to Philadelphia in the East semifinals. With its top pick in the 2023 SuperDraft, FC Cincinnati selected 6-foot-3 defender Joey Akpunonu from Bowling Green State. If he, like Murphy in 2022, can simply be playable as a rookie, Albright will be spared from scouring the center back market during the summer transfer window.

Perhaps the club’s most intriguing offseason acquisition was Colombian center back Yerson Mosquera, who arrived on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers of the English Premier League. Mosquera, 21, moved to Wolverhampton prior to the 2021-22 season but has only appeared once for Wolves. We’ll see how rusty the 6-foot-3 Mosquera is after enjoying precious little game time over the past two seasons.

At fullback/wingback, Alvaro Barreal (5 goals, nine dimes in 2022) is a proven commodity on the left, while a new face appears poised to start on the right. Santiago Arias, a veteran of the top domestic leagues in Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain, officially signed with FC Cincinnati earlier this month. At age 31, he has extensive international experience with the Colombian national team as well, having appeared in the 2014 and 2018 World Cups. Various injuries have limited the veteran to just 13 league matches since fall 2020, but Arias appears fully fit now.

After splitting the right back/right wing back position in 2022, Ray Gaddis and Alves Powell will provide cover and key minutes too, even if the attacking product for both is lacking.

Just how good is Marco Angulo?

Ownership dropped a reported $3 million to scoop up Angulo, a 20-year-old midfielder with a lovely head of lettuce, from his native Ecuador. He slots in next to Obinna Nwobodo as the other box-to-box midfielder in Noonan’s midfield, potentially providing FC Cincinnati with a pair of iron-lunged disruptors to relieve the back line and keep Acosta from trotting too far back into the defensive part of the pitch.

Signed through 2025, Angulo is also a savvy future play for the Orange and Blue, as he made his international debut with Ecuador in November and reportedly just missed out on his country’s World Cup roster. Even if he needs to be eased in, veterans Junior Moreno and Yuya Kubo—who can play all three midfield positions—can soak up big minutes in the No. 8 spot.

Introducing the Leagues Cup

And although the MLS regular season takes precedence, potential glory awaits in both the U.S. Open Cup and the new Leagues Cup with Liga MX. In the latter, both MLS and Liga MX will halt their domestic schedules from July 21 through August for a World Cup-esque competition. Included in FC Cincinnati’s group are Sporting Kansas City and Chivas Guadalajara. The top two sides from each of the 15 groups advance to the knockout round. In the end, three teams will qualify for the 2024 Concacaf Champions League.

Yes, trophies are a realistic goal

Imagine uttering the above phrase a year ago! FC Cincinnati is now deeper and more athletic than it’s ever been and is better positioned to take on injuries and unexpected absences, such as Acosta’s three-match suspension last July. Albright surely has a list of names ready to sign following Brenner’s expected summer exit to Europe.

Moreover, the Orange and Blue have quietly assembled a team of studs. Acosta and Vazquez—who scored in his debut for the U.S. Men’s National Team in January—were All-Stars a year ago, while Brenner averaged nearly a goal per start. Those who follow MLS closely recognize Nwobodo’s brilliance and Miazga’s reputation speaks for itself. Although he didn’t see any game action, second-year goalkeeper Roman Celentano was called up by the U.S. in January.

The proverbial ingredients are there for a postseason run deep into November. Time for FC Cincinnati to cook up a winning end product.

Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.

Facebook Comments