On August 12, 2015, FC Cincinnati announced that it would begin play in the United Soccer League (USL) in 2016. The franchise flourished on and off the pitch, trotting out winning clubs year after year while setting record after record for attendance at Nippert Stadium.
Rushed into Major League Soccer in 2019 without the proper preparation, FC Cincinnati endured three years of last-place finishes before the hirings of General Manager Chris Albright and Head Coach Pat Noonan spearheaded the success wrought since 2022.
But what will the club look like on its 10th birthday in 2025? Will FCC continue to bear the fruit of its highly successful GM/coach partnership? Which of the club’s stars will still be around? Which players will have followed Brenner to Europe?
Albright and Noonan remain in their positions
Albright, hired in October 2021, and Noonan, tabbed by Albright in December 2021, have worked wonders. Inheriting what can now be termed as a talented but flawed roster, the duo have pushed the right buttons on and off the pitch while integrating external signings and homegrown younger players into the fray.
Extensions and raises are probably on the table for both men, particularly for Noonan, who’s quickly asserted himself as one of the league’s top head coaching brains. Given the strong bond between Noonan and Albright—the two spent years together working for Philadelphia Union—the financial might provided by Cincinnati’s ownership, and the top-tier training facility and stadium the club provides here, it’s difficult to see Noonan or Albright finding a better situation in MLS.
Brandon Vazquez and Alvaro Barreal move on
I’ve covered Vazquez’s inevitable transfer to Europe in prior posts, so I won’t belabor the point too much. Despite not matching his brilliant 2022 league form (18 goals, 8 assists), the 24-year-old striker is still producing in 2023 (10 goals in all competitions). Vazquez’s hat trick in last week’s Leagues Cup match vs. Chivas Guadalajara was a reminder of his all-around prowess as a No. 9. Not wanting to lose both him and Brenner during the season, it’s quite likely that Cincinnati will finally grant Vazquez his European transfer at year’s end.
Barreal’s rise from overlooked attacker to best left winger in MLS is a testament to the player’s drive and Noonan’s 3-5-2 formation that’s highlighted the 22-year-old’s strengths (creative play) and managed his average defense. Albright was wise to ink the Argentine to a contract extension with club options for 2024 and 2025 in January, as Barreal has leveled up this season, ranking among the league leaders in key passes and second on the club in goals-plus-assists. I think Barreal starts the 2024 season with FC Cincinnati, but eventually the club will have an offer too good to pass up and he’ll receive a European transfer sometime in 2024.
The rest of the spine remains intact
A soccer team’s spine unofficially includes a striker (or two), its top attacking midfielder, its top defensive midfielder, one or two center backs, and the goalkeeper. For FC Cincinnati, those positions are filled by Vazquez and Aaron Boupendza (striker), Lucho Acosta (attacking midfielder), Obinna Nwobodo (defensive midfielder), Matt Miazga (center back), and Roman Celentano (goalkeeper). Save Vazquez, each of those players should remain in Cincinnati through at least 2025.
Boupendza: The recently signed striker is under contract through 2025 (with options for 2026 and 2027) and is in line to be the team’s premier target man with Vazquez likely on his way out. He’s here for two more seasons at minimum.
Acosta: The 29-year-old is technically on an expiring contract—Cincinnati retains a club option for 2024—but he isn’t going anywhere. Captain of the best team in MLS and one of the MVP front runners, Acosta is in the form of his life. He’s also reportedly pursuing American citizenship with the intent of playing for the U.S. Men’s National Team, so a move abroad isn’t happening. Extension talks apparently began in March, but with Acosta increasing his value with each passing match, there’s no point in the Argentine re-upping now and potentially costing himself money.
Nwobodo: Next to Acosta, he’s the second-most important FCC player. Third in the league in tackles plus interceptions, the iron-lunged, defense-first midfielder is irreplaceable in Cincinnati’s setup. Squarely in his prime, there have been zero rumblings about Obi’s desire to move on to Europe, though the emergence of such rumors would not shock me.
Miazga: The 28-year-old center back has already played extensively in Europe, a plus for the Orange and Blue’s chances of keeping him around long term. FC Cincinnati’s newfound defensive success has helped Miazga back into the good graces of the USMNT, and if his stellar league form continues he’ll be in contention to make the American squad for the 2024 Copa America tournament. Under contract through 2025 with an option for 2026, he also essentially serves as the team’s second-string captain.
Celentano: Despite a few untimely spilled shots of late and Alec Kann’s strong play during in Leagues Cup, he remains the future between the posts. Among keepers with at least 15 matches played, the 22-year-old is third in clean sheet percentage and sixth in save percentage.
With a full week off following its two-day, 3-1 victory over Chivas last week, FC Cincinnati faces Nashville Friday at TQL Stadium in Leagues Cup Round of 32 play. It’s the third meeting of the season between Queen City and Music City, with FCC winning both previous contests, including a 3-1 victory in the West End less than three weeks ago. The victor moves on to face the Chicago Fire-Club América winner in the Round of 16.
Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.