MLS Insider: Tom Bogert

Missing piece? What DP midfielder Obinna Nwobodo brings to FC Cincinnati

Following front office and coaching changes in the latter portions of 2021, FC Cincinnati have added their first Designated Player of a new era with Wednesday's announced signing of Nigerian defensive midfielder Obinna Nwobodo from Turkish Süper Lig club Göztepe.

The transfer fee is $3 million, a source told Nwobodo, 25, is looking to fill a hole Cincy have had, essentially, since joining MLS in 2019: A high-level defensive midfielder.

“We have a way of valuing defensive actions," general manager Chris Albright told media during a virtual press conference, "and how we value defensive actions, Obi is elite.”

Nwobodo is Cincy's third DP, alongside Brazilian forward Brenner and Argentine playmaker Luciano Acosta.

Since arriving from Újpest FC in Hungary’s top flight, Nwobodo was among Turkey's busiest midfielders. He led the league in tackles (121), ball recoveries (432), pressures (772) and interceptions (93), per the club, though with Göztepe sitting second-from-bottom in the Turkish league, he had ample opportunity to defend.

Regardless, the data and the eye test aligned and Cincy have been long convinced Nwobodo was the right target.

“Data and analytics isn’t the whole story – soccer is still more of an art than science – but it’s something we value and it’s been reliable for us in the past," Albright said.

Nwobodo was put on the club's radar through the use of analytics back in the fall.

“He was identified way back when I arrived," said Albright, who came from the Philadelphia Union after Gerard Nijkamp departed. "When we sat and looked at the needs of the team, of the group, a ball-winner was something we targeted. We identified him pretty quickly, but the deal itself took a long time to get over the line. We feel Obi is the right player. Some deals take longer than others.”

It's difficult to predict how long the immigration process will take in terms of receiving a visa and being able to join first-team training, but Cincy hope that Nwobodo can debut within the month.

Nwobodo gives head coach Pat Noonan a key option in the midfield. He can play as a No. 6 or as a No. 8, both in the club's preferred 4-4-2 tight diamond or the 5-2-1-2 formation they've mostly been using with a lack of numbers in the midfield. Cincy have conceded 14 goals in six matches this year, which is fourth-worst in the league.

“He’s someone we feel can help shield the backline and, frankly, lessen our goals against," Albright said. "Anytime you add a defensive presence in the midfield, hopefully your center backs have to do less.”

In addition to Nwobodo, the Orange & Blue continue to remain active in talks for further acquisitions. Cincy have a U22 Initiative slot open after trading center back Gustavo Vallecilla to the Colorado Rapids in late March. Their current U22 players are wingers Isaac Atanga and Alvaro Barreal.

“We continue to evaluate the roster as we build," Albright said. "I said it wasn’t a finished product at the start of the season and it won’t be a finished product when we add Obi. … We are still actively looking to add pieces to improve the roster. We’re hopeful we can do more this window. That’s as much as I’ll say about that.”

Brenner latest

There has been some noise around potential outgoings, though. reported last week that Cincy rejected a bid from Brazilian club Internacional, an offer that Brenner and his camp were pushing to be accepted.

Albright confirmed that there was an offer that they turned down.

"There’s often offers on the table for players that don’t meet the valuation we have – that’s what I think happened here," Albright said. "It’s something we want to put behind us, get Brenner scoring goals and helping us achieve success.”

A source told that Internacional remain extremely interested and will likely try again to sign Brenner in the summer.

The 22-year-old has yet to start in MLS this season. He missed time during the preseason while sorting his visa and wasn't fit to start the club's first few games. Brandon Vazquez and Dom Badji have formed a successful partnership up top in the early part of the season, but Brenner should get his chances soon.

“We remain committed to developing Brenner, to justify the investment," Albright said. "He’s a really talented kid that does special things. He can score goals in our league. My position is no different than when I took the job: We feel he has a world of talent and it’s our job to get that out of him.”