But as the calendar flips to February, the 23-year-old Brazilian remains in Cincy’s preseason camp after briefly training by himself, a mutual decision by the club and player as late-stage negotiations unfolded.
In due course, Cincy head coach Pat Noonan is confident their Young Designated Player will move on despite some brief “disappointment” this winter.
“Our goal is to continue to develop Brenner in a way where he can live out his dream and play in a top-five league,” Noonan said in Thursday’s media availability. “We keep an important piece, but certainly the psychological side on his end is the challenge. Hopefully he can be in the same form he was in these first three weeks [of preseason] and the end of 2022 as we move forward.”
That form saw Brenner tally 18 goals and six assists in a shade over 2,000 minutes (29 games) last year, winning MLS Player of the Week presented by Continental Tire honors on three separate occasions. After a so-so 2021 MLS introduction – he had 8g/2a across nearly 2,800 minutes (33 games) – those production levels showed why Cincy spent a reported $13 million to sign him from Brazil’s São Paulo FC.
Finding a replacement
Now this summer, Noonan said general manager Chris Albright and Cincy's staff might have to replace one of MLS’s most expensive incoming transfers. That could even apply to striker Brandon Vazquez and midfield playmaker Luciano Acosta, who arguably create MLS’s top attacking trio alongside Brenner. Vazquez, signed to a long-term deal, drew a $7 million bid from Liga MX’s Chivas this winter.
“The longer you can keep important pieces, the longer you have to find the right replacements, if and when you need to,” Noonan said. “We've been talking a lot about what kind of pieces we want to add moving forward in the event we lose some of our key contributors and what kind of attacking pieces specifically we're looking for if Brenner were to go, if Brandon were to go, Lucho – there's been talks about all of them.
“There's an idea of what it looks like if they're gone. But I think with now knowing Brenner is going to be here until the summer, we can really look at what do we want for that summer window if we lose a piece or two.”
In the meantime, Brenner helps Cincy build toward a Feb. 25 season-opener against Houston Dynamo FC at home (7:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass). An unexpected deal could always materialize – the Turkish window remains open through Feb. 8, as one example – but the timelines likely shift to June and July.
The new normal
Looking big picture, Noonan feels this is a natural place for MLS clubs in the global market.
”As a coach, you don't want to constantly have key pieces on the move,” Noonan said. “But that's the reality of the investment of top young players coming in and developing them. And when they have success, there's opportunities for them to go onto bigger and better things.”
To Noonan’s point, last month Chicago Fire FC sent Colombian international striker Jhon Duran to EPL side Aston Villa for $22 million ($18 million guaranteed). That fee rivals the most-expensive MLS outbound transfer, when Paraguayan international midfielder Miguel Almiron joined EPL side Newcastle United for $26 million from Atlanta United in the winter of 2019.
Brenner, like his South American colleagues, may soon join that MLS-to-Europe pipeline.
“It's kind of two-fold, but I like that our league right now is developing top young talents and giving them better opportunities for their careers,” Noonan said.