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Top finisher, calculated risk: Cincinnati captures imagination with Brenner


RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - DECEMBER 26: Brenner and Pablo of Sao Paulo celebrate a scored a goal during a match between Fluminense and Sao Paulo as part of 2020 Brasileirao Series A at Maracana Stadium on December 26, 2020 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

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The latest and greatest buzz over a young international import to Major League Soccer is FC Cincinnati’s eight-figure purchase of Brenner Souza da Silva from Sao Paolo in Brazil.

The 21-year-old is coming off a top ten scoring season in Brazil’s Serie A, nabbing 11 goals and three assists in 1,929 minutes and adding six goals in six Copa Do Brasil appearances.

The video doesn’t lie: He’s a fox in the box with style to spare, a top ten scorer last season in Brazil who also ranked 10th in shots per game, 8th in total shots inside the penalty area, and 2nd on shots inside the six. He doesn’t pass a lot, his 14.3 per game 19th on his team, and his 0.5 key passes per game was ninth on Sao Paolo.

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But this isn’t as simple as wondering whether FC Cincinnati has done better than Atlanta did with Ezequiel Barco or Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez, nor is there a direct comparison to Diego Rossi’s move to LAFC.

It’s a genuine challenge to wrap your head around the exciting signing, especially considering that Major League Soccer’s proving ground is an uneven one. Top goalscorers in MLS are diverse in their styles but most don’t smash their way into the league’s game-changer category at Brenner’s young age, or even before their mid-20s.

A Brazil U-17 regular earlier in his career, Brenner is a center forward with status just beginning to find his powers.

His reported $13 million fee is in the ballpark of some similar recent moves in Brazil’s top flight, behind only three moves from the summer of 2020: Antony’s $17M move from Sao Paolo to Ajax, Pedrinho’s $20M transfer from Corinthians to Benfica, and Everton’s $22M sale from Gremio to Benfica.

How does Brenner compare to those non like-for-like players, in terms of production? In some ways it’s unfair if only because FC Cincinnati has captured a golden egg, the out-and-out center forward entering the prime of his career, but let’s look at the numbers of their last seasons in Brazil, side-by-side.

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We can’t measure Brenner’s impact yet, but first seasons for the other three have seen two massive successes and one slow start. Antony is tearing up the Eredivisie with eight goals and eight assists in 1,241 minutes and Everton’s been effective at Benfica with three goals and four assists in 1,118. Pedrinho has struggled with just 205 minutes across nine appearances.

All of those leagues are almost unquestionably better in terms of top-to-bottom talent and depth than MLS, which is often buoyed by its stars, so the bar should be fairly high for Brenner while accounting for adjustment to a new culture. And definitely note that, right now, there is only one other South American on the roster in young Velez Sarsfield import Alvaro Barreal of Argentina.

It also might be worth comparing Brenner’s numbers at his age to other free-scoring Brazilians who are in our frame of reference.

Brenner turned 21 on Jan. 16 and primarily plays as a center forward, though he’s operated underneath the CF and on the left wing.

  • Gabriel Jesus was four months from his 20th birthday when he left Palmeiras for Manchester City on the heels of 17 goals and seven assists in under 2700 minutes between Serie A and the Copa Libertadores. He hit the ground running at City, scoring seven times with five assists in 741 minutes.
  • Gabriel Barbosa was still about to turn 20 when he went from Santos to Inter Milan, scoring 15 times with seven assists in his last 1.5 seasons in Brazil. He only scored twice and barely played in two seasons between Inter MIlan and Benfica before heading back to Santos, eventually moving back to Brazil full-time with Inter taking a $13 million bath.
  • How about Richarlison? More of a winger for sure, Watford bought him from Fluminese in 2017 off a 7-goal, 7-assist season in 18 appearances for about the same fee as Cincinnati did Brenner. Also 20, Richarlison scored five times with five assists in his lone season at Vicarage Road and was in Everton as a double-digit scorer within a year.
  • Watford tried the same trick in January 2020 with Joao Pedro, still 18 at the time of the move and coming off seven goals and two assists in 28 outings. He did not feature much in the Hornets’ relegation run-in, but has six goals and two assists this season for the promotion-chasing side.

Anyway, the overall point here is that there’s no reason to put too much of a ceiling on hope and hype for a big capture, especially if Cincinnati can feed the proverbial beast. The asks quite a bit of a team that’s lost 37 of 57 matches in MLS, producing just 43 goals in the process.

Follow @NicholasMendola