MLS Insider: Tom Bogert

Three big questions following FC Cincinnati's 2022 season


The 2022 MLS campaign has long been over and the unforgiving nature of the single-elimination Audi MLS Cup Playoffs sends another four clubs to the offseason after the Conference Semifinals, with just four teams left standing. The other 24 (plus St. Louis!) are in full offseason mode.

Here, we'll be covering three questions for every team moving forward. Think of it as an exit interview, if you will. Matt Doyle, as always, has you covered on his preeminent season-in-review for each club (FC Cincinnati version). Read that, too.

He has gifs. It’s tough to beat gifs.

Big picture

The club’s first-ever MLS playoff appearance and the club’s first-ever playoff win. Three attacking stars. A rebuild way ahead of schedule.

Is that… hope around FC Cincinnati after three straight Wooden Spoons?!?!

It was a fun year. Optimism is (rightfully) high. Now, FCC look to build on that foundation this winter.

Which positions are next to upgrade?

When general manager Chris Albright took over last fall, he knew the club needed a total makeover. They were cap-strapped, for the most part, so the first focus was on the culture/structure.

Look at the roster. A lot of players were incumbents from previous years, including each member of their incredible front three. The key signings mostly came after opening day (Obinna Nwobodo, Matt Miazga and Junior Moreno). Those are three starters, three positions they desperately wanted to upgrade. They also overhauled the goalkeeping depth chart.

Now what? As the salary cap continues to reset, bad contracts expire and allocation money regenerates, Cincy will have much more flexibility this year and not as much to fix. It’s a good spot.

Right wingback seems an easy place to start, a quick way to further add dynamism to the attack. The wingbacks are going to be open all of the time with the gravitational pull the front three will have on defenses.

Further defensive additions will be top of the to-do list as well. A full season of Miazga and Nwobodo will help, but FCC conceded 56 goals in 2022. That’s an obvious area of improvement. Another center back starter is likely and perhaps more depth.

Speaking of depth, more in central midfield will be welcomed. In their playoff loss to the Philadelphia Union, Cincy had no central midfielders on the bench. Yuya Kubo (who, remember, was signed as a DP forward) missed the game with a personal matter so they had no CMs on the bench. That’s a thin margin!

Will the front three stay intact?

First, the good. The trio of Lucho Acosta (10g/19a), Brandon Vazquez (18g/8a) and Brenner (18g/6a) were absolutely incredible. They helped make this one of the most entertaining teams in the league. Pat Noonan and his staff got Acosta more touches further up the field. Acosta was awesome. The two forwards were well-rounded and unselfish.

Will they all definitely be back? That’s a good question.

Well, let’s start with an easy one. Vazquez signed a new, long-term contract by the end of summer. His status is not in question for next year, though if he continues this form, European clubs will come calling. That’s a talk for another day.

Acosta is the club captain. He took on a leadership role we didn’t get to see much when he was starring for D.C. United. It was cool. His contract status is one more year guaranteed with a club option for 2024. I would imagine talks for a new contract will happen, but with two years of club control, it doesn’t need to be finalized and signed immediately.

Brenner, though. He would be the most likely of the three to leave. He was awesome this year, but it wasn’t without some strife. Due to a visa issue, he missed the beginning of preseason. Then he was unhappy he wasn’t starting immediately, missed a meeting and the fallout led to a one-game suspension. The relationship was icy. He asked to leave when an offer from Brazil came in. The club rejected it, insistent not to sell low on a player they believed would fit really well in the new system.

The Orange & Blue were correct. Brenner’s value went right back up.

The rising former Brazilian youth international is also a player with European aspirations and European suitors. I’d expect interest and offers this winter. Cincy will set a high price – as they should for his talent, résumé and the season he just had. We’ll see what happens.

If Cincy get a big fee (to cover the $13 million investment, plus some profit), the front office would likely take another big swing on a DP forward.

When Albright took over, he admitted he was excited at the potential targets they could chase with the bigger budgets. Nwobodo was an example – a $3 million defensive midfielder. That looks really good. What will they do at center forward whenever it comes to that?

Will FCC use their two U22 Initiative slots?

The U22 Initiative is super useful for “big-spending clubs” because it’s the chance to sign talented young players and not incorporate the transfer fee into the budget charge. And, also, the players hit the cap at $200,000 (or less).

By nature, these slots are difficult to hit. Young players vary in how they adapt and how they develop, but they can be very useful. There are a lot of good examples. NYCFC, LAFC, Chicago, Portland and Vancouver come to mind.

Cincy currently have only Alvaro Barreal (who was really impressive at left wingback this year) at the club on the U22 Initiative after trading Gustavo Vallecilla to Colorado. Isaac Atanga is on loan in Turkey. If he leaves permanently, that opens two slots, which can help with the depth questions I asked above.

Chicago put around $7 million into transfer fees for U22 Initiative players Jhon Duran and Federico Navarro. The LA Galaxy spent $4 million on Dejan Joveljic, and New England $4 million for Dylan Borrero.

What will Cincy do?

Depth chart as of Oct. 24
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A few more thoughts:

  • I really liked the 5-2-1-2. Expect that plus the 4-4-2 tight diamond next year.
  • With Ronald Matarrita back from injury, what happens at LWB? Barreal was very good, but Matarrita is perfectly suited to that role.
  • How many players will leave? Should be more than a few as contracts expire/options come up.