Seven months after signing Brenner Souza da Silva for a reported fee of $13 million, the young striker is finally coming good for FC Cincinnati—and then some.
Relegated to a substitute role pre-international break (three starts in nine matches), Brenner has started four successive games since the league restart. Over that period, Brenner has morphed into MLS Mbappe, collecting five goals over the team’s past three matches. After notching FC Cincinnati’s lone goal in a victory over Philadelphia on June 24 and tallying the club’s first-ever hat trick in a heart-stopping 4-4 draw last week against New York City FC, Brenner’s second-half score ensured FCC left New England with a key draw Sunday night.
The 22-year-old Brazilian, acquired from São Paulo FC on Feb. 9, 2021, was an iron man during his first MLS season, starting 33 of 34 league matches. He also set club records for goals in a season (eight) and shots on target (24). The problem was the low percentage of converting those shots on goal into scores.
The start of Brenner’s sophomore season was less than ideal. He missed all of FC Cincinnati’s preseason training awaiting a green card, then picked up a back problem that plagued him until the recent international break. While warming the bench for then-first choice strikers Brandon Vazquez, the club’s breakout star with eight goals and four assists, and veteran Dominique Badji, Brenner reportedly requested a move to Brazilian side Internacional in early April.
Weeks after the move was rejected by FC Cincinnati, Brenner said he was committed to the Orange and Blue. But he’d have to wait until after the international break to receive major minutes once more. And boy, has the starlet delivered.
I attended my first 2022 FCC match in-person a week ago against NYCFC, and despite all the madness that occurred—notably a blown first-half three-goal lead for the first time in MLS history and mild-mannered head coach Pat Noonan’s postgame row with a reportedly out-of-line assistant referee—Brenner’s breakout performance was the main takeaway.
Brenner achieved his hat trick by scoring in three vastly different manners: finishing Lucho Acosta’s lovely slot dish past NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson; a three-quarter bicycle/scissor kick off a redirected ball in the box; and firing a tracer past Johnson to level the match at four.
Brenner was damn close to racking up five goals: a jaw-dropping backheel in the 18th minute and the would-be game winner in the 89th minute were disallowed after video review. Sitting in the stands and being able to hone in on a single player can provide a fuller picture of an individual’s performance than watching on television. Perhaps fueled by his own brilliance against NYCFC, Brenner also pressed his ass off defensively, applied consistent pressure on NYCFC’s makeshift back line with well-timed runs, and dropped back at opportune times to link up with the midfield. It was neat to see Brenner’s confidence increase with seemingly every touch—he was the baddest dude on the pitch that night, and he knew it.
Despite the draw, if Brenner—named MLS Player of the Week for his showing—can find consistency to match the season-long greatness of Acosta and Vazquez, opposing defenses have someone new to be scared of.
More observations from NYCFC, plus squeaking out a point in New England
FC Cincinnati should have won against a tired/depleted NYCFC side. There’s a reason the home team became the first squad in league history to blow a three-goal first advantage before intermission. Noonan conceded as much after the game.
“Two points dropped. There’s no question, if you’re up 3-0 at any point, it’s two points dropped,” Noonan said. “There’s disappointment, but I think the energy in that locker room, despite not getting the three points, is a group that’s hungry and expects more, even against a good opponent.”
The two extra days of rest and the absence of NYCFC star striker Valentin Castellanos (eight goals in 13 matches) only add to the sense of a giant missed opportunity.
Another observation from NYCFC: FC Cincinnati nailed the signing of Obinna Nwobodo. I touched on Nwobodo’s brilliance in my last post, but the defensive midfielder is so impressive in person. NYCFC players were bouncing off the 5-11 Nigerian, who boasts effortless control and a relentless motor. After picking his fifth yellow card last week, Nwobodo missed the New England match. His absence was notable, with Allan Cruz and the just-recently-fit Yuya Kubo struggling to replicate Nwobodo’s ability to cover up FCC’s shaky center back play.
FC Cincinnati were fortunate to escape with a point against New England. Perhaps the club was feeling the effects of its third match in 10 days, but the mental errors that had become less common since the start of the season reappeared vs. the Revolution. The club was also devoid of the same energy it possessed against NYCFC—but a point is a point.
Next up is a home match Saturday against New York Red Bulls (32 points, 1st in East), a fifth consecutive contest vs. an East side in playoff position. So far, FCC (25 points, 5th in East) has gone draw-win-draw-draw during this taxing stretch of the calendar.
FCC to host Liga MX side at an inopportune time in September
Late last week, FC Cincinnati announced a match against Liga MX side Club Deportivo Guadalajara, or “Chivas,” on September 21. The tilt is part of MLS and Liga MX’s Leagues Cup Showcase, a preview of the 2023 Leagues Cup between all MLS and Liga MX teams.
While the match itself will be very exciting for the fans and adds yet another showcase event to Cincinnati’s burgeoning soccer landscape, the timing of the confrontation is poor for FCC. The match is right in the middle of a critical two-match West Coast swing for the Orange and Blue, who face Real Salt (3rd in West) on September 17 and Seattle (7th in West) on September 27. The Seattle match, originally slated for April 9, had to be moved due to the Sounders’ advancement in the CONCACAF Champions League. I tend to think Noonan will rest most or all of his regulars vs. Chivas, but this is a friendly FC Cincinnati could have done without.
Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.