Back in preseason, with FC Cincinnati coming off their third straight Wooden Spoon finish (last place overall), there was little reason to believe a colossal turnaround awaited.
Just ask striker Brandon Vazquez, who hailed the work led by first-year head coach Pat Noonan and general manager Chris Albright – both formerly of the Philadelphia Union – during the 2022 campaign.
“Everybody knows their job, everybody knows exactly what to do and we have a lot of trust in this coaching staff, a lot of respect,” Vazquez told host David Gass on MLS Today. “Every time we step on the field we know exactly what we need to do to get the job done and I feel like everybody's been able to do that extraordinarily this year.
“We surprised everybody this year and surprised even myself. It's great.”
That shock factor comes as Cincy prepare for a Round One game at the New York Red Bulls on Saturday (12 pm ET | UniMas, TUDN, MLSSoccer.com & App), the club’s first-ever Audi MLS Cup Playoffs trip during their fourth season in the league.
It’s truly a new era, one where Cincy’s now the Eastern Conference’s No. 5 seed and would visit the top-seeded Union on Oct. 20 in the Conference Semifinals should they advance.
“Nobody expected us to be here, but being able to prove a lot of people wrong, it's been a great feeling and it just shows how strong of a group we are and how much talent we have,” said Vazquez, who joined FCC in 2020. “It's not over, it's barely getting started and I think we're going to keep building off this and for the years to come this will be a standard for us.”
Cincy have the second-most goals (64) in the Eastern Conference, spearheaded by Vazquez, striker Brenner and midfielder Luciano Acosta combining for 46 goals and 33 assists. They’re arguably the league’s top attacking trio, and Vazquez said their chemistry “clicked right away.”
Vazquez’s breakout season of 18g/8a has caught headlines all throughout 2022, evoking persistent calls to join the US men’s national team ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. However, that ship may have sailed as the 23-year-old Mexican-American awaits his first senior international appearance.
“I talked to Gregg [Berhalter] right before that [September] camp,” Vazquez said of the USMNT coach, “and he was basically saying that it was a little too late to integrate me and that he feels I made it really hard for him and that I just need to keep proving myself and that I'll get that opportunity in the next cycle. Pretty much was that.”
In the meantime, Vazquez is focused on taking Cincy deep into the postseason. They’re one of the lowest-favored teams to reach MLS Cup on Nov. 5.
“We know what to expect and we're all excited, we're buzzing,” Vazquez said. “We're just trying to keep making history.”